Vacant buildings can be more than a nuisance, and Chicago authorities make every effort to hold owners accountable for the safety and livability of their buildings. Understandably, if a property is a danger to its residents or others because of building code violations, the owner will likely receive a citation, and fines will begin to accumulate. However, sometimes those violations or dangerous conditions are not within the control of the owner.
A recent fire in the South Side is under investigation, and police are especially concerned because the fire resulted in one man’s death. The fire department received a call around 6:45 one morning that an abandoned building was on fire. A second alarm sounded about 15 minutes later, and rescuers worked over four hours extinguishing the flames that spread to an adjacent building. Residents of the adjacent building evacuated, but they informed rescuers that a man had been living in the empty building.
Two days later, when the fire rekindled, firefighters discovered the unidentified 40-year-old man’s body in an inaccessible section at the rear of the second floor. A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Buildings reported that several weeks earlier, a fire had erupted in the same building, and preliminary investigations show that the fire was likely caused by a human act. The building is now slated for emergency demolition.
While news reports did not reveal information about the owner of the vacant building or its condition, as a rule, vacant buildings are carefully monitored in the city to prevent them from becoming havens of illegal activity. However, if the owner is cited for building code violations, he or she may have a valid defense. Nevertheless, the owner may be facing extensive fines if the city determines those violations contributed to the fire. With legal assistance, building owners may be able to successfully defend against such charges.
Source: chicago.suntimes.com, “Man found dead two days after Washington Park fire“, Sept. 27, 2017