Activists say fatal fire could have been averted

Activists in Chicago's Belmont-Cragin neighborhood say they're disappointed the city didn't do more to secure a vacant house that later burned, killing two people.

March 26, 2012

By Ashley Gross

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(WBEZ/Ashley Gross)

Last Monday, I visited 2414 N. Marmora with people concerned about vacant buildings. The yard was piled with garbage and it reeked of urine.

Vanessa Valentin of the Northwest Side Housing Center discovered squatters had pried the boards off the door.

"It’s easy," Valentin said. "They take it off and they have access to come in and out."
Valentin says she called the city’s 311 hotline that day – her third call since last summer complaining that the house was unsafe.

Four days later, it went up in flames.

"You know, my first reaction was I cried because two people lost their lives, two firemen got hurt," Valentin said. "It's very frustrating. This could have been prevented if they would have gone out on Monday when reported and secured it."

Chicago Department of Buildings spokeswoman Caroline Weisser says the city twice boarded up the building, most recently last May, and was working on getting it demolished.

"The Department of Buildings works aggressively to use the tools at its disposal to ensure vacant properties are maintained and secured," Weisser said in a statement.

LaSalle Bank, now Bank of America, filed foreclosure in 2007, but Bank of America says JP Morgan Chase is the one in charge.

(UPDATE on 3/29/12): A Chase spokeswoman provided documents from the foreclosure auction in 2008 showing that Joseph Varan purchased the house for $180,000. But the web site of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds has no record of Varan holding the deed to the property, nor of an auction having been completed.

“The City is undertaking an investigation into the ownership because the title on file with the Recorder of Deeds has been drawn into question," Weisser of the Department of Buildings said in a statement.

Varan couldn't be reached for comment on why the property had not been maintained and why he hadn't filed the deed with the county.