Erwin Johnson (from left), Theressie Johnson, Margaret Jackson and Clifford Sullivan, tenants of the apartment building at 1413 E. 79th St., held a news conference in front of the building on Tuesday. Just two days before Thanksgiving, they feel compelled to move after their landlord shut off heat and water in the building. | Mark Capapas/Sun-Times
Residents of a property owned by Vincent Lane, a former CHA executive director, claim heat and water were shut off with almost no warning and they are being asked to leave.
Clifford Sullivan has lived in his South Shore apartment for 10 years; his neighbor, Erwin Johnson, just four months.
Both have been comfortable at 1413 E. 79th St. and never had major issues with their landlord, Vincent Lane.
Lane, a former executive director for Chicago Housing Authority, was known, among other things, for creating Operation Clean Sweep, which tried to crack down on drugs and gangs in public housing.
Now, days before Thanksgiving, Lane is facing scrutiny as Sullivan, Johnson and other tenants in his South Shore building are being asked to leave indefinitely.
The latest troubles started in early October, when a man lit a fire in one of the second floor units, causing an unknown amount of damage.
“[Lane] was explaining to me when I went to pay rent in October that when they start doing work on the buildings that we would have to evacuate,” eight-year resident Theressie Johnson said at a press conference Tuesday.
But, she added, there had been no work or other communication since then. Instead, the heat was shut off.
City ordinances require heat to be turned on Sept. 15 through June 1, maintaining a temperature of 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees at night.
The eight-unit apartment building was fully occupied at the time of the fire, according to Lane’s son, Craig Lane. It now is half full, and those remaining tenants held Tuesday’s news conference on the sidewalk in front to draw attention to recent developments.
During that news conference, Craig Lane came out to talk to reporters and ended up surrounded by tenants. He said fire damage had left the structure with “no access to heat.”
Craig Lane talks to tenants Tuesday in front of the building at 1413 E. 79th St. owned by his father, Vincent Lane. Residents say heat and water have been shut off in the building; one resident is holding up the notice they said they received less than a full day before water was turned off.
Erwin Johnson said he paid $350, or about half his rent, for October — on condition the heat would be turned on. It never was.
Neither he nor his neighbors have paid rent for November.
On Friday, things escalated again.
Residents found an orange paper taped to their doors, declaring: “EMERGENCY WATER CUT OFF NOVEMBER 20TH, 2021 7:00 A.M.”
Craig Lane said the shutoff was necessary because without heat, water pipes could freeze and burst.
“We can’t let the pipes bust just because they want to stay in there,” said Lane. “We’ve told them that they have to leave. We thought we’re doing them a favor to let them stay.”
Dixon Romeo of the community organization Not Me We said Vincent Lane isn’t supposed to shut water off on such short notice.
“You cannot put a notice on someone’s door on Friday night that you’re going to cut the water off on Saturday,” said Romeo. “That’s irresponsible. That’s illegal. That’s wrong.”
He called it an “especially egregious” act just two days before Thanksgiving.
While Craig Lane said he personally told each tenant they needed to leave, tenants denied any communication prior to finding the notices taped to their doors. Repeated phone calls and texts to Vincent Lane have gone unanswered, they said.
While some remaining tenants, like Sullivan have places to go, others don’t.
Sullivan and his wife are moving to Park Manor in Greater Grand Crossing. Even if work on the building is completed, they’ll never move back.
“I have an option to leave because I have insurance,” Sullivan said. “But these are my neighbors and my heart goes out to them. These people have no money. They don’t have options like I do to move.”
Residents said they filed complaints with the city but received no responses.
This isn’t the first time Vincent Lane has faced trouble.
In 2000, Lane was accused of bank fraud and making false statements to obtain a loan. A judge dismissed the bank fraud charge, but a jury found him guilty of making false statements to a bank. Lane was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Clifford Sullivan, was a tenant at 1413 E. 79th Street for 10 years. With heat and water shut off after a fire in the building, he and his wife are moving to Greater Grand Crossing and don’t plan on coming back. Not everyone in the building is so fortunate, he said, noting “these are my neighbors and my heart goes out to them. These people have no money. They don’t have options like I do to move and relocate.”
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.