Updated 12/23/2010 at 5:45 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) – The South Shore neighborhood commercial building where two firefighters died in a blaze Wednesday has a troubled history.
The building at 1744 E. 75th St. previously housed the Banner Dry Cleaners, but was vacant when the fire broke out Wednesday morning. Firefighters Edward Stringer, 47, and Corey Ankum, 34, were killed, and 17 other firefighters were injured, when the wall and roof collapsed.
CBS 2 has learned the city’s Law Department filed a complaint about the property in Cook County Housing Court in 2007. While the case was pending, there were seven inspections.
WBBM Newsradio 780’s Steve Miller reports the most recent time city inspectors looked at the building, they found 14 code violations and said building owner Chuck Dai had failed to maintain it “in a structurally safe and stable condition.” Two code violations related to the roof, including failure “to maintain roof in sound condition and repair.”
In October of last year, Dai signed a court order and agreed to pay a $1,000 dollar fine, obtain a structural engineer’s report, submit plans and apply for permits, and either make repairs or sell the building by November of this year.
The city says Dai is still the owner. The law department is considering its options, including fines of $500 a day for any code violations and filing criminal or civil contempt of court allegations for failing to comply with the Oct. 6, 2009, court order.
No one answered Dai’s door or phone today.
Meanwhile, a businessman working adjacent to the Banner Dry Cleaners building says the structure was commonly used as a refuge for the homeless. The firefighters were searching the building for homeless people who might have been inside at the time of the deadly collapse.
WBBM Newsradio 780’s John Cody reports Joe Riccardo Smart, the co-owner of the Smart Bros. Car Wash next to the fire building, said both he and the city have done what they could to reduce the risk from the structure.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Regine Schlesinger Reports
Smart says he frequently called the city to report break-ins next door.
“After I have called numerous times, I have seen where the situation has been rectified, as far as the place is back boarded up,” Smart said. “But within a few months or so, or a few weeks, you come right back through there, you see a door open or whatever they put up to keep them up – it would be torn down and you’d have the same situation.”
A Building Department spokesperson says there are about 12,000 vacant buildings in Chicago but didn’t know how many of those had building code violations, CBS 2′s Dana Kozlov reports.