Woodlawn tenants unionize, demand repairs from landlord 312 Properties
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Woodlawn tenants unionize, demand repairs from landlord 312 Properties

Aug 30, 2023

Tenants share their experiences at the 312 Properties building 6610-6618 S. Kenwood Ave., on Saturday morning, July 29, 2023.

After months of mounting health and safety concerns — rodent infestations, electrical outages, leaks and poor building security — residents in a Woodlawn building have formed a tenants union to push their landlord to make repairs.

At a Saturday morning press conference, residents from a 312 Properties building, 6610-6618 S. Kenwood Ave., alleged that the company has allowed poor conditions to persist in the 35-unit building despite repeated requests over months for repairs.

In the last week, the 14 members of the newly formed 312 Tenants Union have filed 14-day notices. If the company does not complete repairs within that time frame, tenants will begin withholding a portion of their rent.

“We are demanding that our building is repaired and restored to safe conditions,” said Megan Franklin, a tenant of 10 years. “We are the people that make Woodlawn, yet we are the people being pushed out and being hurt the most.”

In an emailed statement, 312 Properties co-owner Ariel Lowenstein wrote that “work is already in process.”

“Management views this as a great opportunity to invest in the property. We will handle each resident's needs with care,” the statement reads.

City records show that the building has failed its last two building inspections, one as recently as July 21. The inspectors issued citations for missing bricks, washed out mortar and missing supports in the building’s rear porches but were unable to verify interior building conditions.

Franklin, a teacher who is raising two young children in the building, alleged that rents have risen but conditions have deteriorated since 312 Properties took ownership in 2019. Previously, the building was a condominium.

Last winter, Franklin said, management did not respond for days after a sewage backup in her unit forced her and her family to find alternate lodgings. Since then, she alleged, she has found a dead rat in her oven and injured herself on a cracked floor tile, leaving her unable to work for a time.

“While my family and I love this neighborhood, it’s been a struggle to remain here since 312 Properties acquired the building,” Franklin said.

In a statement, Lowenstein acknowledged increasing the rent upon buying the building in 2019, but denied that the company has increased rent in the following four years. He also wrote that the company “handle(s) issues as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Rents in the building currently range from $1,495 to $2,200 for one- to three-bedroom units, tenants said.

Aruna Kumaran, a nurse and tenant of four years, said that around two years ago, water started coming in through the ceiling of her son’s room — and that the leak returned even after repairs were made. Now, lights flicker constantly in the room, she said, and she is concerned about electrical hazards and the possibility of mold growing in the unit.

“We asked (Lowenstein) to test for mold because now my son has severe allergies, severe eczema, continuous ear infections,” Kumar said. She said that she and her spouse have missed work to care for their son’s health.

Other tenants said they’ve experienced outages in heat and air conditioning, roach infestations, plumbing issues and building security issues that they say have left them feeling unsafe in the building.

“We have had numerous break-ins to the building, to the point where our mailbox got ripped out of the wall,” said Brandi, a tenant who asked to be identified only by her first name.

Tenants said that the building’s courtyard entrances use common keys and are worried that many non-residents may have access to the building. They are asking 312 Properties to install different locks to common doors and to fix broken doors and doorbells, in addition to making specific repairs in each unit.

Lowenstein said that 312 will explore different solutions to residents’ concerns about building security, adding that the company sees the “key to success” as having strong communication with residents.

The affordable housing crisis has stressed relations between tenants and landlords, he said. “Apartment owners, property managers, and residents in the near southside are going to have to navigate what is increasingly becoming a more unaffordable housing market. Residents are being stretched financially, which only exacerbates the landlord-tenant relationship.”

312 Properties, owned by brothers Ariel and Raphael Lowenstein, has purchased around 20 buildings in Woodlawn, South Shore, Bronzeville and Kenwood over the last eight years.

Tenants across 312 Properties buildings have previously spoken out about similar issues, including leaks, sewage backups, infestations and inadequate responses from management.

The tenants’ union said they hope to see the necessary repairs made within the two weeks. If not, they are prepared to withhold a portion of their rent until repairs are made, they said.

“We deserve quality service for what we pay,” Franklin said. “We know that this was quality housing and we still deserve it to be quality housing today.”

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A mix of clouds and sun. High 84F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph..

Partly cloudy. Low near 70F. Winds light and variable.

Updated: August 3, 2023 @ 10:23 am

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