Chicago native Sivi Miles and his wife moved into a new two-bedroom apartment in South Shore four years ago, believing that the bigger space would provide room as their family grew.

But as the couple and their three sons, an 18-year-old, 2-year-old and a newborn baby, huddled in their bedroom around a space heater last December, they wondered how the home they’d thought would bring new comfort had quickly become a safety hazard as they spent three weeks over the winter with no heat. 

“It was freezing cold,” Miles told Illinois Answers in an interview earlier this year. “It was very depressing. Me and my wife mentally broke down in tears over what we were going through.”

Miles’ family was just one of 15 tenants at the property at 6725-6733 S. Paxton Ave., who alleged they didn’t have heat when temperatures were as low as minus 1 degree last winter. It’s an apartment complex managed by Catalyst Realty and owned by an Illinois-based LLC. 

The tenants say they filed dozens of complaints with the city, prompting the Department of Buildings to conduct inspections and ultimately, relocate residents from the building. 

But this wasn’t the first winter that city inspectors reviewed the 30-unit apartment building or the owner’s first time cited for heat-related building code violations in recent years. It was the fifth.

The property was among hundreds of repeat building code violators who left their tenants without heat or hot water during the months that Chicago law requires landlords to meet specific temperature minimums. 

Buildings department inspectors flagged over 700 cases where one or more tenants were living without heat or hot water at 456 buildings across the city from November of last year through this May, according to city records, when the city heat-requirement ordinances are in effect. All of those inspections were prompted by complaints made through 311 or directly to the buildings department. 

An Illinois Answers Project analysis of city records found that 311 of those 456 have a history of violating the same building heat-related codes, beginning in November 2017. But often, tenants and city inspectors don’t know who owns those buildings or the extent of their real estate holdings.

Illinois Answers reviewed ownership records of properties where city inspectors surveyed buildings as a result of five or more complaints from November 2017, then aggregated the cumulative number of violations among all the buildings owned by those landlords — based on records publicly available. Since building ownership can be hidden, the analysis is not comprehensive.

In at least a dozen cases, landlords owned multiple residential properties that failed inspections, just in 2023 alone. Inspectors noted tenants using stoves, space heaters and other unapproved heating devices to warm their apartments, which can create fire hazards for tenants. 

Since November 2017, the owners of 76 properties faced five or more complaint-driven city inspections, and five landlords came up the most frequently for maintaining insufficient heat and hot water for tenants — most on the city’s South Side.

Among these landlords was Gary Carlson, who was subject to neighborhood scrutiny last year in Albany Park after his apartment building in the 4300 block of North Richmond street burned down, taking with it two neighboring businesses, and displaced dozens of residents, according to Block Club Chicago.

Since 2017, there were at least 19 occasions when city inspectors flagged Carlson’s buildings for violating the city’s heating laws. 

The landlord, who’s managed more than 70 buildings across the city for decades, says that what city data doesn’t show is how often tenants don’t shut windows and doors properly, or don’t operate their radiators according to instructions. 

Carlson defended his business by detailing his system to field and resolve complaints and was adamant that his maintenance team works quickly when they get complaints.

Renters “vote with their money every month when they pay rent. And if they cry loud enough to me, I tell my employees to shut them up by fixing the problem,” he said. “I go out of my way to relieve them of their grief.”

In South Shore, a three-story property managed by Pangea Realty and owned by a separate Illinois-based LLC was noted for violations nine times since 2017. Illinois Answers found seven additional properties owned by that LLC which accumulated nearly 60 heat-related code violations in that time. Pangea did not return calls for comment.

Eli Sieger is listed as the sole manager of Regeis Chicago Realty LLC, a New-York based company that owns four apartment buildings in Greater Grand Crossing. One property, at East 71st Street and South St. Lawrence Avenue was hit with 21 building code violations. Sieger did not respond to requests for comment from Illinois Answers. 

Last winter, three of Sieger’s properties had tenants who complained about worsening conditions in their units, including going weeks without heat. Sieger defended his business at the time saying that he inherited heating problems when he purchased the properties. 

Real estate investor Hadar Goldman is tied to at least a dozen multifamily properties throughout the South Side in neighborhoods like Auburn Gresham, Grand Crossing and West Englewood. In 2019, a city inspector reported that out-of-service radiators left tenants in one of the landlord’s buildings living in units at temperatures as low as 51 degrees, when it was just 11 degrees outside.  

Properties owned by businesses affiliated with Goldman’s company, Goldman Investments, racked up dozens of violations after inspectors found tenants living in buildings with frozen pipes, using stoves to heat their units and going without hot water. 

The company that manages Goldman’s properties, WPD Management, told Illinois Answers that heat violations are often “one-off” and are quickly rectified if tenants call into the company’s 24-hour maintenance line. 

“WPD Management takes no-heat complaints very seriously, and will address them no matter the time of day, a spokesperson for the company wrote in a statement. The company, which manages the buildings but does not own them, said in many instances the complaints were solved the next day.

And MJRP Ventures LLC owns millions of dollars in real estate — mainly small multifamily buildings sprinkled across the South Side — that repeatedly violated city heating laws. City inspectors cited MJRP buildings 24 times during the period of Illinois Answers’ analysis. 

MJRP did not return phone calls for comment on these violations. 

Since December, Chicago housing advocates have sounded the alarm on the limits of the city’s inspection procedures. 

“They don’t have enough people doing enforcement. So it takes a long time to get the heat turned back on.” John Bartlett, executive director of Metropolitan Tenants Organization said. “You don’t want somebody living in someplace, for weeks or months, that doesn’t have heat because it just takes such a long time.”

In an email to Illinois Answers, Buildings Department spokesperson Mike Pucinelli said the department takes the “life-safety of all residents seriously” and that the city filed “several hundred enforcement cases” in administrative hearings and county court when tenants complained about heat. 

“Property owners are responsible for the maintenance of their property, including heat mechanical systems, and the city holds property owners accountable through enforcement action in the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings and the Circuit Court of Cook County,” according to the statement.

The city did not specifically respond to questions about tracking repeat offenders or whether the city’s reactive inspection process goes far enough.

Since late 2017, the city has cited buildings across Chicago 4,427 times for violating three building codes related to providing warm housing for tenants. These codes require landlords to sufficiently heat units to at least 68 degrees between September 15 and June 1, to ensure that residents aren’t using dangerous heating devices to warm their units and to provide hot water throughout the year. 

Landlords who don’t meet these requirements and fail to keep heating equipment in “good operating condition” can face legal action and fines up to $1,000 a day by the city.

Finance Department records show that the city imposed more than $193,000 in fines last winter for heat ordinance violations. But advocates say by the time the department gets to enforcement, the harm to tenants is already done. 

More than 75% of inspections for heat violations last winter focused on apartment buildings on the city’s South and West sides where tenants’ rights groups say heat violations are likely higher than what’s reported because many tenants don’t complain to the city about their landlords or management companies for fear of retribution.

In Kenwood, nearly 200 residents were displaced after water pipes burst during a December winter storm two days before Christmas. 

And in Hyde Park tenants at the Algonquin Apartments are suing MAC properties, the St. Louis real estate giant that manages the site, after they were displaced for three weeks last winter. According to the class-action complaint, the Buildings Department found the company responsible for a power outage that left residents without heat after conducting unapproved electrical work months earlier. 

The LLC that owns the towers in Hyde Park, Algonquin Apartments LLC,  also owns a 48-unit men’s residential hotel that failed heating inspections in January and February.

At the South Shore apartment building, Miles said it took at least two weeks without heat before city inspectors came to the building.

“We were all complaining every day. I mean, me,  my wife, everybody,” he said. “Just to see how much pressure we could put on someone to come out and do something.” 

The Buildings Department said its records show that its staff responded to complaints three days after the referral from 311, but the department was “unable to gain entry after several attempts to contact the caller. “

City inspectors fielded complaints from 311 and monitored the building for the first time on January 6. Notes from the inspector recount details from only one unit without heat: While the temperature outside dipped to minus 1 degree, the unit inside was only 59 degrees. The tenants were using their stove to provide heat to the apartment. 

After the city’s first visit to the apartment building, maintenance employed by Catalyst Realty provided Miles and his family two space heaters while the building’s heating system was out,  but Miles said plugging in both of the heaters blew a fuse. The family was without power for the weekend. 

Inspectors returned a week later, Miles said. Fifteen residents were moved out of the building and into hotel rooms. 

The company that owns the property, GRV Jackson Park LLC, owns at least one other property in Uptown that failed a heating complaint inspection in February, records show.

Units in the building on South Paxton failed inspections in 2020, 2021 and 2022 related to heat ordinance violations. In 2021, the building wracked up 45 violations for all code infractions. 

Of the property owners who had multiple buildings fail heat inspections last winter, only one, Carlson, is cataloged on the city’s scofflaw list – a registry of landlords with a history of building code violations who are banned from receiving city contracts. 

MTO and other tenants’ rights groups have drafted a proposed ordinance that would create a registry of rental properties and their owners so city agencies like the Buildings Department could better track problematic landlords. 

The proposal was introduced to the City Council in December, sponsored by Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd). The City Council has yet to take action on it. 

The ordinance would mandate preventative inspections every five years on rental properties to check for things like heating, lead levels and mold. 

Critics of the proposed ordinance say that sending city employees out to survey properties more often would cost too much. But in neighborhoods where residents are less likely to report irresponsible landlords, housing advocates say that while the city is slow to establish a more proactive system, they hear regular complaints from people who feel their housing is unsafe. 

“A lot of people that are experiencing this are the most vulnerable. People who don’t necessarily have a lot of access or the ability to ask for help,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. 

MTO’s hotline fielded 260 complaints about essential services — typically no heat or no running water — from December to March last winter. Bartlett says those numbers were higher in past years but a mild winter slowed complaints. 

In Albany Park, Rodriguez-Sanchez says that her office organizes community-led inspections of buildings when constituents make complaints, and calls the Buildings Department to prompt emergency inspections.

“There’s just not enough resources in aldermanic offices for us to be doing this,” she said. “I don’t think the government can just say ‘we don’t have the money.’”

Carlson owns many properties in Albany Park and is the subject of frequent complaints there.

In South Shore, Miles said the financial burden of paying rent to Catalyst Realty — even when he didn’t have heat — and the added expenses of food and parking during his family’s hotel respite set him back hundreds of dollars in just a few weeks.

To avoid the cost of breaking his lease with Catalyst, Miles and his family moved into another apartment building managed by the company in Woodlawn in March. The rent is $300 more than where they had lived. Now, he says he and other tenants are weighing their options on seeking compensation. Catalyst did not return calls for comment.

“Why couldn’t it be something like the city sues these people? Something where the city is gonna make them take care of us and compensate us for everything that they put us through,” Miles said. “We’re fighting this ourselves.” 

Reporting on equity issues by the BGA is supported by Joel M. Friedman, president of the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund.

Sidnee King joined the Illinois Answers Project (BGA) in late 2020 as an investigative reporter covering the impacts of Chicago, Cook County and Illinois government action on communities of color. Sidnee is a metro Detroit native who received her master's degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism just before joining the BGA. She is also a proud graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. You can find some of Sidnee's previous work published in outlets like The Washington Post,, and the Michigan Chronicle.