Renters barred from Prospect Heights condo meeting held in wake of fire

 
 
Updated 7/24/2018 8:39 AM
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  • Condo co-owner Francisco Ruiz, of Streamwood, speaks to the media after a meeting Monday held by the River Trails condominium association board in the wake of last week's massive fire in Prospect Heights. Behind him, some condo residents hold signs calling for the resignation of three board members.

      Condo co-owner Francisco Ruiz, of Streamwood, speaks to the media after a meeting Monday held by the River Trails condominium association board in the wake of last week's massive fire in Prospect Heights. Behind him, some condo residents hold signs calling for the resignation of three board members. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Francisco Ruiz, of Streamwood, co-owns a fire-damaged condo in Prospect Heights and questioned the possibility of it taking two years to rebuild.

      Francisco Ruiz, of Streamwood, co-owns a fire-damaged condo in Prospect Heights and questioned the possibility of it taking two years to rebuild. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • A crowd protests some River Trails condominium association board members before a meeting Monday at Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights. The meeting was to provide insurance and other information for unit owners affected by a massive fire last week.

    A crowd protests some River Trails condominium association board members before a meeting Monday at Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights. The meeting was to provide insurance and other information for unit owners affected by a massive fire last week. Bob Susnjara/bsusnjara.com

  • Some renters of River Trails condos damaged by a massive fire last week were barred from an association board meeting Monday in Prospect Heights.

    Some renters of River Trails condos damaged by a massive fire last week were barred from an association board meeting Monday in Prospect Heights. Bob Susnjara/bsusnjara.com

  • A crowd protests some River Trails condominium association board members Monday before a meeting at Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights.

    A crowd protests some River Trails condominium association board members Monday before a meeting at Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights. Bob Susnjara/bsusnjara.com

  • Some renters of condominiums damaged by a massive fire last week were not allowed into a meeting as it was only for owners at the River Trails complex in Prospect Heights. The meeting was at Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights on Monday.

    Some renters of condominiums damaged by a massive fire last week were not allowed into a meeting as it was only for owners at the River Trails complex in Prospect Heights. The meeting was at Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights on Monday. Bob Susnjara/bsusnjara.com

Controversy enveloped a meeting Monday night that was meant to provide insurance and other information to homeowners affected by a massive fire last week at the River Trails condominium complex in Prospect Heights.

Protesters upset with three River Trails condo association board members began the evening in front of the Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights. After about an hour, the crowd filed into the building and crammed into a hallway ready to enter a meeting room, only to be told the meeting was just for owners whose units sustained fire damage.

Eventually, about 100 condo owners -- but not renters or media -- were allowed into the meeting. After the session, condo co-owner Francisco Ruiz of Streamwood said the board indicated it could take at least two years for the damaged units to be rebuilt.

Ruiz, who's sparred with the condo board over a possible sale of the complex to a developer for an apartment conversion, said the rebuild must happen faster.

"Most of the renters' policies or most of the homeowners' policies only cover 12 months, not two years, which means we would have to pay rent and we would also have to pay assessments during that extra time," Ruiz said.

River Trails condo association President Bob Levin declined to comment after the session. Before the meeting that included Farmers Insurance Group representatives, he said the idea was to provide valuable information to homeowners.

Levin said the agenda included telling unit owners they need to keep current on condo association monthly assessments, along with encouraging them to contact lenders and insurance agents.

"We're going to rebuild, that's the bottom line," said Levin, who lost one of the several units he owns as rental properties at River Trails. "The question is, how long?"

Levin said engineering work, the hiring of a contractor and city building permit approvals will be part of a lengthy process handled by the condo board.

At least 70 households face long-term displacement from the July 18 fire that spread rapidly once it reached the open space just below the buildings' connected roofs. Three people, including one firefighter, sustained minor injuries.

Three of the buildings were left smoldering, while a fourth had significant water and smoke damage after scores of firefighters from across the area battled the blaze for hours. Investigators said a juvenile accidentally started the fire, but no charges have been filed.

Some protesters hounded Levin as he walked to his car after Monday night's meeting. He and two other condo board members were accused of closing a River Trails recreation center Saturday and Sunday and changing the locks, preventing residents from accessing donated items.

Levin said residents in need were referred to a nearby social service agency over the weekend.

"If you went to River Trails, you wouldn't believe all the food and clothes," he said. "And the volunteers have all stacked men's and women's clothes by size and shoes by size. And a children's toy section and food. Then, if people are hungry, they can go upstairs and get a hot meal. The people have gone above and beyond the call of duty. And to have people protest that we weren't open for a time, I have no comment."

Prospect Heights officials announced Monday that clothing and other items no longer will be accepted due to an immediate outpouring of donations. However, they said other options are available to anyone who still wants to help fire victims.

One avenue is donating to Wheeling Township Elementary District 21's Katie Samsel Foundation to directly benefit the families of students. Check ccsd21.org for more information.

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