ROGERS PARK — As firefighters fought to tame a fire early Monday morning at a Rogers Park apartment complex, public records show a battle with the building's owners had been brewing behind the scenes for years.
The building at 1700-08 W. Estes Ave. has been inspected nine times over the past 10 years by the city and was cited for 39 violations during those visits. That includes three times since 2012 where investigators couldn't gain entry to the building in order to make sure smoke detectors worked properly, records show.
Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago said one firefighter Monday injured his shoulder after a set of stairs collapsed while crews were making their way to the third floor of the building.
In January 2010, the building was cited for failure "to maintain interior stairway system in safe condition and sound repair" because pickets were missing from the front staircase handrails.
Six other firefighters were injured in mostly ice-related incidents, and later Streets and Sanitation workers thickly salted the intersection of Paulina and Estes.
The building is registered to Cameel Halim, the agent for CH Ventures, LLC and Wilmette Real Estate & Management, LLC. A woman who answered a phone number registered to CH Ventures, LLC (and is also listed outside the apartment building) declined to comment on the fire.
Court records show Halim and his various real estate corporations have been sued dozens of times in Cook County civil and chancery courts in the past 24 years, including by the city of Chicago for building and environmental violations.
In November 2011, the courts ruled in favor of Centerpoint Energy Services, Inc., which was seeking $1.7 million from natural gas supplied to Halim's rental properties.
In the suit, the energy provider alleged Halim moved funds from Wilmette Real Estate & Management's account to he and his wife's personal account in order to avoid paying the judgment. The energy provider argued many of Halim's rental property corporations were "shell corporations."
Jenira Torres, who lives along the 7106-12 N. Paulina St. side of the L-shaped property, said she was awoken by her distressed cat rather than her smoke alarm. Throughout the ordeal, she said neither the alarm in her apartment nor in her hallway or stairwell sounded.
"They weren't going off," she said, adding the hallway alarms weren't sounding either. "I thought my cat wanted food, and then I'm just kind of hearing helicopters coming close, and I hear a bunch of yelling."
When she looked out her window, a ladder was standing directly outside with a firefighter headed up to the third floor above her.
Once she, her girlfriend and roommate were all awake, Torres said she eventually opened the door to her hallway where she could instantly smell smoke.
Almost as soon as she opened the door, Torres said a firefighter appeared who told her to grab her things because the building was being evacuated.
She calmed her girlfriend before grabbing her cat, Pokemon card collection, laptop, phone charger and coat.
They went to a nearby friend's house before going to a hotel. Though her apartment suffered smoke damage, nothing major was ruined.
Torres said she never noticed any fire extinguishers in the building.
According to Chicago municipal code, "Fire extinguishers shall not be required in multiple dwellings not exceeding three stories in height and having a floor area not exceeding 3,000 square feet."
Though the city lists the building as having only three floors, the first floor is elevated. Torres said she believes there are some residential garden units, and said there is no basement storage space.
The Cook County Assessor's office lists the property as 17,000 square feet.
Other violations cited by the city included several instances of rotting decks, window frames and doors, peeling paint, non-secured porches, water-damaged balconies, stagnant sewage in the basement, live rats, and open plaster in the basement ceiling.
Broken windows, ice and smoke damage are the remnants of a severe fire that did not claim any fatalities. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Shards of glass and window screens were strewn across the sidewalk along Paulina Street. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Windows were broken out along both the Estes Avenue and Paulina Street facades of the building at 1700-08 W. Estes Ave. after a fire early Monday. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Top-floor residents look out over the damage to their building, including one woman brushing her teeth. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
The state marshal k-9 unit was present at the building late Monday morning. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Hundreds of icicles hung where fire crews had battled the 2-11 alarm blaze. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
The Estes Avenue side of a building that caught fire Monday. At least seven firefighters were injured in the blaze, mostly from ice-related falls. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Police tape cordoned the building off as of 11 a.m. Monday as investigators continue to search for the cause of the fire. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Streets and Sanitation workers laid thick salt near the scene of the fire after seven firefighters were injured from ice-related falls. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Thick clouds of smoke hovered over the building for hours as a fire raged on inside, as captured by resident Jenira Torres. [Twitter/Jenira Torres]
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