Habitat Company negligent in preventable $2 million high-rise fire?!
A pro-smoker board, no sprinklers, building-code scofflaws, absentee landlords, COVID-19 . . . and an "extra alarm" fire
     give real estate insiders bargain opportunities for bulk acquisitions or deconversion!

File catalog – last updated January 26, 2024 (use browser "refresh" button to be sure of latest version)

Questions? Comments? shelley@ward42.org


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"Smoking" PowerPoint presentation based on excerpts from Board meeting minutes and owners forum
  • Habitat Company
  • 400 Condominium Association

– self-running slide show
2007-2017_board_meeting_minutes_smoking.pdf – complete presentation for easy printing in black and white, including notes pages

"Smoking" PowerPoint presentation based entirely on word-for-word quotations from 400 Condo Association board meeting minutes, 2007 through 2017. Under Habitat Company management a consistent pattern emerges:
     – “business judgment” of consistently dismissive and indifferent lip service
     – persistent and systematic failure to negotiate in good faith.
     Speaker notes pages include additional details, including definitions and limitations of "business judgment" excuse.
     From slide #2 (January 8, 2007): "When the convector filters are changed maintenance does check for working smoke detectors. There are still many who do not have one, and these Unit Owners will be fined."
     From slide #4 (October 13, 2008): "Virginia Clendenin, #1511: She reported that she has a complaint regarding smoking, especially over the past 2-3 months with smoke coming into her Unit. She has lived here for 40+ years and this is her first experience with this. In addition, she finds cigarette butts on her balcony and today an empty package (that she brought in to show). The smoke makes her nauseated. She has complained to Management. She has a right to live in her Unit without being sick. She is wondering if she will have to move because of this or can anything be done?”
     Over a period of time Virginia Clendenin’s health worsened and subsequently she did move, selling at a "fire-sale" price to a predatory real estate insider. She died a few months after moving out of ODE.
From slide #26 (February 1, 2016): "[Board secretary] John Stanton moved to fine a Unit Owner $1,500.00 plus the cost of cleaning and balcony repair as a result of the smoke damage (cost estimated at $5,042.00). Seconded by Bryan Curry and unanimously approved.”

"Washers and Dryers" PowerPoint presentation based on excerpts from Board meeting minutes and owners forum
  • Habitat Company
  • 400 Condominium Association

Self-running PowerPoint slide show
PDF in black and white for easy printing

"Washers and Dryers" PowerPoint presentation based entirely on word-for-word quotations from 400 Condo Association board meeting minutes, 2007 through 2017.
     Illegal gas-fired dryers can present a serious fire-safety hazard!
     Washers and dryers are an elegant amenity as touted by real estate speculators at 400 East Randolph Street, but they are against condo rules and wreak havoc with plumbing, gas, electric, and ventilation.
     For the sake of quick profit, and a management culture of actively looking the other way, everyone else in the building – including both children and elderly – pays heavily in terms of water damage, air quality, and fire safety.
     According to “400 Condominium Association Remodeling and Construction Contract and Requirements,” “No washing machines may be installed in residential units [emphasis added].”
     It is not without warrant, then, to suspect Habitat Company of poor business judgment, hopeless incompetence, negligence . . . or worse.
Weekly FYI Management Report
  • Habitat Company
2014-2017_manager_fyi.pdf – large (31 MB) searchable PDF combining 2014 thru 2017 weekly management reports

Example text search "smoke detector":
     "During the convector filter changes, smoke detectors were noted. By city ordinance, all units are required to have working smoke detectors – specific letters were sent to 53 units."
     "Per city of Chicago ordinance, all entry doors must have door closures attached and in use. Any units that have removed or disturbed the functionality of this mandated equipment will be subject to hearing and fine by the Association and fines by the city as contrary to stated public safety policy. All units must also have an operating smoke detector. This is a safety requirement."

Rationale (quoted from court papers) and reference documents re Board access to condo units to check smoke detectors
  • Board attorney David Sugar (Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr)

Condominium Property Act

1973 (original) 400 Condo Assoc Documents

2015-12-24 Letter re Amended and Restated Declaration and Bylaws

Amended and Restated Declaration 400 Condo Assoc 2017-06-05

Rules and Regulations Manual 2016-03-07

Condominium and Common Interest Community Ombudsperson Act

"Section 18.4 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act vests the Board with certain powers and duties, including the authority '[t]o have access to each unit from time to time as may be necessary for the maintenance, repair or replacement of any common elements or for making emergency repairs necessary to prevent damage to the common elements or to other units.' 765 ILCS 605/18.4(j)."
      "In addition to the powers and duties vested in the Board pursuant to Section 18.4(j) of the Illinois Condominium Property Act, Section 15 of the Amended Declaration provides:
     'The authorized representatives of the Board or of the Managing Agent shall be entitled to reasonable access to the individual Units as may be required in connection with maintenance, repairs or replacements of or to the Common Elements, the Limited Common Elements or any equipment, facilities or fixtures affecting or serving other Units, Common Elements and the Limited Common Elements.'"
NBC 5 News "High-Rises to Be Held Accountable in Life-Safety Ordinance"
  • Felicia Davis (Commissioner Chicago DOB)
  • NBC News (TV Chicago)
2014-12-30_nbc_high-rises_to_be_accountable.pdf 2014-12-30 NBC TV News (Chicago) "High-Rises to be Held Accountable in Life-Safety Ordinance" (text only).
     "Many fire experts argue that the city life-safety evaluation ordinance lets buildings off easy. They consider fire sprinklers the gold standard of protection, and indeed, sprinklers have been required in all new construction in Chicago since the '70s.
     "But after six people died in the fire at 69 West Washington in October of 2003, the City Council stopped short of requiring sprinklers, in the face of massive opposition from building owners and condo boards."
NBC 5 News "High-Rises to Be Held Accountable in Life-Safety Ordinance"
  • Felicia Davis (Commissioner Chicago DOB)
  • NBC News (TV Chicago)


nbc_high-rises_to_be_accountable.wmv (download) or NBC 5 2014-12-30 NBC TV News (Chicago) "High-Rises to be Held Accountable in Life-Safety Ordinance" (video).
     Compare/contrast proactive sprinkler installation at safety-conscious 400 West Deming Place: "For all of us on the board, safety is really our first priority."
ABC 7 News "Fire code update deadline approaching for city's high-rises"
  • Felicia Davis (Commissioner Chicago DOB)
  • ABC News (TV Chicago)
abc_fire_code_deadline.wmv (download) or (preceded by ad) ABC 7 2014-12-30 ABC TV News (Chicago) "Fire code update deadline approaching for city's high-rises" (video).
     Note Chicago high-rise fire example of October 17, 2003.
E-mail to DOB re fire safety
  • Chicago DOB
2015-02-09_fry-dob_3601-03.pdf 2015 e-mail from resident to Chicago DOB: "I am increasingly concerned about combustible materials – kerosene torches and construction debris – being stored on the 40th floor landing of the West fire stariway."
Example fire hazards
  • Habitat Company

Example fire hazards (snapshots) under Habitat Company management
Example fire hazards under Habitat Company managment (2015 snapshots).
E-mail to/from DOB Commissioner Felicia Davis
  • Felicia Davis (Commissioner Chicago DOB)

As shown in TV interviews, the Chicago Department of Buildings Commissioner, Felicia Davis, was proactive about fire safety, though not long afterwards she was replaced.
     The DOB, rather than the CFD, had been instrumental in getting kerosene and other combustible materials removed from the fire stairs of 400 East Randolph Street.
     A continuing problem, however, is systemic unpermitted – or improperly permitted – individual condo unit reconstruction: 20 to 30 projects at any one time, each lasting 3 months or more and costing an average of $65,000. Together this amounts to a $5 million "industry" annually.
     At the same time, older or less advantaged owners are a target for insider speculators, foreclosure predators, and fix-and-flip contractors. And absentee slumlords make more money, of course, if they can circumvent the DOB permit process and/or misrepresent the true scope of repairs or "rehabs" of their rental properties.
     Habitat Company has set itself up as its own "permit-granting" agency. No permits ever are displayed publicly nor are drawings or plans made available for adjacent condo owners – or anyone else – to review.
    Not surprisingly, few residents, building employees, or even DOB personnel, will come forward given alderman influence and whistle-blower retaliation.

Chicago Tribune "Editorial: Some Chicago high-rise owners still playing with fire"
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Judy Frydland (Commissioner Chicago DOB)

2016-02-12 Chicago Tribune "Editorial: Some Chicago high-rise owners still playing with fire."
     "Frydland, who spent years in the city's Law Department, reminds us that she prosecuted many fire safety scofflaws. She promises to aggressively pursue buildings that don't fall into line."
     "Make it so, commissioner. Make 2016 the Year of No More Excuses."

Balcony fire
  • Habitat
2016-03-00_newsletter_fire_fine.pdf 2016 balcony fire described in ODE Newsletter.
Failed alarm system
  • Alderman Brendan Reilly
  • Habitat Company
  • Chicago Fire Department




400 East Randolph Street was exempted from safer-but-more-expensive sprinklers in exchange for an updated fire detection system. Unfortunately, it became well known early on that the newly installed fire detection system did not work properly.
     This was concealed by Alderman Brendan Reilly, Habitat Company, and Chicago Fire Department.
     Following the recent 2020-09-15 fire and in preparation the 2020-10-14 Zoom "coffee and conversation" debriefing, and because five first responders had been trapped in elevators, we asked CFD Deputy District Chief Walter Schroeder:
     (Complete background is included in our 2020-10-08 e-mail to Chief Schroeder.)

Association previously notified
  • 400 Condominium Association

2018-03-10 e-mail to Association Vice President Kevin Rogers:
     "I am concerned why the ordinary smoke alarm in the source apartment did not go off. This puts all of us residents at danger let alone the occupant of the apartment with the burning material. Perhaps we should revisit the sprinkler option as other buildings have."

"Smoke incident" memo
  • Habitat
  • Chicago Fire Department

"Security and Maintenance . . . began knocking on doors to look for source of smoke. The smokestack was opened to allow smoke to exit the hallways."
     "[T]here were issues surrounding the volume and clarity of the announcement system."
     "The standing safety protocol during a fire/smoke incident is that you should 'shelter in place' – which means stay in your unit – unless and until someone from the CFD knocks on your door and provides alternate directions to vacate the unit and floor."

     Note cigarette butts (click photo at left to enlarge), combustibles, and construction debris routinely dumped by Habitat Company contractors down referenced fire-safety "smokestack."

2019-11-04 board meeting – free smoke detectors
  • 400 Condo Association
  • Habitat
  • Alderman Reilly
  • CFD
2019-11-04_board_minutes_smoke_detectors_p01.pdf "Phil Pritzker reported on the following:
     • Smoke Detectors – Alderman Reilly’s Office has free smoke detectors available via the Fire Department. They can be picked up at his office, Room 200, 121 North LaSalle Street, Monday through Friday, 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
E-mail report of fire . . . linked with Air Quality Index
  • PurpleAir

E-mail report of fire from building resident:
     "Tuesday, September 15, 2020, 3:00 a.m."
     "It is now 3 a.m. in the morning and the smoke detectors and fire alarms are still going off. Evidently there was a fire on the 32nd floor about 1 a.m."

     Anecdotal report is reflected in sensor-based Air Quality Index in apartment in different wing and five floors away from fire. AQI at over 700 was "off the chart" – beyond "Hazardous." For comparison, AQI 4, extremely good a few days later also is shown.

     Publicly accessible PurpleAir AQI for 400 East Randolph Street and surrounding neighborhoods can be retrieved here. (Click circled "ODE" sensor for current chart.)

Chicago Tribune
  • Chicago Tribune, Paige Fry
2020-09-15_tribune_fry.pdf "Man describes crawling through thick smoke to help neighbor in downtown highrise fire. He's saying, 'Get me out of here,' but I couldn't do anything."
Cardinal News
  • Chicago Fire Department

"[P]eople were reporting smoke. . . ."
     "Residents of the building were evacuating on their own down a central stairwell. . . ."

  • Chicago Fire Department
2020-09-15_wgn_9.pdf "At least six people were injured, two of them critically, in a two-alarm high-rise fire in the Loop."
     "Fire crews only evacuated the 32nd floor, and multiple floors above, due to smoke from the fire."
     "Six people were transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, two critical and four in good condition. A pet was reportedly killed in the fire."
     "The fire chief says that multiple firefighters did get stuck in an elevator shaft, but no injuries were reported."
"The cause of the fire remains under investigation."
  • Chicago Fire Department

"[A]round 12:30 a.m. a fire was reported on the 32nd floor. . . ."
     "Fire officials said the apartment had smoke detectors, but they were not working."
     "A 77-year-old man and a 70 year old woman who live there suffered serious injuries. Four other residents nearby were treated for smoke inhalation and are OK."
     "Five firefighters got stuck in an elevator for 30 minutes after the blaze was out but they were able to escape with no injuries."
     "One pet died in the fire."

  • Chicago Fire Department

2020-09-15  ABC  7

"Fire officials said the apartment had smoke detectors, but they were not working."
Chicago Fire Department
  • Chicago Fire Department
2020-09-15_cfd_foia_20-8938.pdf Chicago Fire Department incident and investigation reports.
Chicago Fire Department
  • Chicago Fire Department
CFD snapshots of most recent (2020-09-15) fire (OuterDriveEast.org).

Last Updated: January 26, 2024