What was marketed as a comfortable living experience in a building replete with amenities has been anything but, according to tenants of 855 Lake St. Those who live there have seen broken locks on the main entrance, an unhoused person sleeping in model units, leaks and inoperable appliances, and received clipped responses, if any, from management concerning the building’s many issues. The owner, however, has pledged to do better by tenants.
“I really appreciate their patience as we pull everything together, and we promise to be more communicative in what’s going on and in what the plan is,” said Ayman Khalil, representative of Icon Clark LLC, the entity in ownership of the property and the agent of which is Khalil’s wife Nadeya Khalil.
Some Oak Parkers may remember the recently renovated apartment complex, which sits across from Scoville Park, as the former Oak Hotel, built in 1924. It was later converted into apartments, but the 6-floor building fell into disrepair and became a site of concern for Oak Park police, which elevated to a site of notoriety in 2011, when a 17-year-old teenage girl from Wisconsin died in one of its units of a heroin overdose.
It’s been an uphill battle getting the building back on track. Khalil’s company, Icon Clark LLC purchased the building in May 2018 for $3.97 million, gradually emptying the building for renovation. The vacant building was condemned by the Oak Park Fire Department in April 2019, after inspectors discovered a small fire had ignited in the third-floor hallway, damaging two units. The renovation project turned out to be more work than originally thought.
“You know how it goes when you open the walls and it turns into a one of those jobs where you have to do everything,” Khalil previously told Wednesday Journal.
The fire department then recommended building an enclosed staircase, which Icon Clark paid for, and an external elevator. The Oak Park Village Board agreed to pay for the elevator, awarding Icon Clark a grant of $260,000 from its Affordable Housing Fund in early February 2020. A few months later, COVID-19 hit, presenting unavoidable delays.
Despite supply chain issues and limited staffing, renovation resumed, with Khalil trying to save the vintage building’s art deco features, reviving the more glamorous part of the structure’s history. He began actively leasing the building in spring of this year, with 46 of the building’s 64 units approved for occupancy and 40 of the 46 units leased. Most units, about 85%, are studio apartments. Rent ranges from $1,350 to $1,450 monthly.
It hasn’t quite been a dazzling comeback for a building many thought beyond salvation. Wednesday Journal spoke to three current tenants, two of whom wished to remain anonymous, all unhappy with management’s lack of communication and broken promises. A patio, an area for dogs and an exercise room were all advertised, on top of in-unit laundry and dishwashers.
“I believe people in general are understanding and patient with the fact that we’re bringing a lot of apartments online. And so there’s going to be some oopsies,” said Khalil.
The amenities are coming, he said, but admitted that “more than a few complaints” have been received concerning combined washer and drier machines.
“Most of them have been due to inexperience with the combo unit,” he said.
As for the other problems, the village of Oak Park has come out to inspect the property and Khalil is working to address the issues. The majority of tenants are single women, and while many grievances are general maintenance-related, such as overflowing dumpsters, some fear for their safety.
One female tenant, a medical student, told the Journal her Ring surveillance camera captured a man trying to force his way into her apartment while she was asleep in bed. The first to move in, she had invested in the camera as a precaution as she spent a couple of weeks as the building’s sole tenant. The lock to the front entrance, she said, was broken, allowing non-residents to enter freely. Her unit is next to a model unit and one unhoused individual has been known to sleep in model units, according to tenants and confirmed by Khalil and the Oak Park Police Department.
“What if someone had actually left their door unlocked? What are they doing to secure the building to make sure people who don’t live here cannot get in?” the tenant said.
She sent the Ring footage to Icon 606, the management company overseeing the property, but no one responded to her email and no one responded to her follow-up emails either. Icon 606 did not return Wednesday Journal’s requests for comment.
Tenants and Khalil alike said several calls were made to police regarding people entering the building without being tenants or guests of tenants. Not all of these entries were made through the front door; once, someone let a person enter and another time, someone broke a first-floor window, according to Khalil. The tenants who spoke to the paper said they were told by officers not to file written reports.
“In all instances, the police department will take a report if it’s warranted. Officers have the discretion to code any incident,” said Police Chief Shatonya Johnson. “There was only one report made at that property because, upon arrival, officers determined that there was not an incident or action that called for a report at the time.”
A Freedom of Information Act request turned up just one police report from a similar incident that took place at 1:48 a.m., June 6, when an unknown man entered a woman’s apartment using a key. The man told police he had a master key and admitted to entering the woman’s apartment.
The medical student’s concern is with the people responsible for keeping the building secure, so its tenants are safe. Her concern is not with the person experiencing homelessness, nor does she want to contribute to any stigma associated with unhoused people.
“Everyone should have a space in which they’re able to lay their head at night and be comfortable and be safe,” she said.
But her stance applies to the building’s other tenants and to herself too. She pays $1,350 each month for her roughly 350-square-foot studio apartment. A lock was eventually put on the model unit next to her apartment and the front door was fixed, but she never received any acknowledgement that the management company had even received her messages.
She also said her lease called for monthly rent payments but, when it came time to move in, she was asked to pay for 18 months upfront in order to get her set of keys. Her realtor, she said, was able to help her get out of having to pay that considerable lump sum. Khalil said he had no knowledge of such a request.
Barbara Todd, a 72-year-old tenant, said she was unable to move in until two days after May 1, the date specified in her lease, because management said her unit wasn’t ready. She said she paid for the full month but was assured of a refund for those two days. She was also promised her unit would have an accent wall, like the one in the model unit, for which she pays an extra $25 monthly. She has yet to see the refund or the accent wall and she believes management is dodging her calls. Her washer-dryer is broken too.
Khalil promised he would contact Todd to straighten things out but was unaware of the promised accent wall, which he said was deemed unfeasible for livable units due to the fragility of the product. The accent walls mimic the look of hardwood, which Todd loved, but Khalil said it is more than just a paint job.
Another tenant, a teacher and former corrections officer, said she was excited about living in the building, but it hasn’t lived up to expectations. She bought wooden dowels to reinforce the security of her windows, in case someone tried to break in. The water in her unit used to run scalding hot, regardless of which way she turned the temperature knobs. On the other side of the building, her neighbors, she said, had only cold water. The water issue has since been fixed, but management’s lack of communication hasn’t improved for tenants, she said.
“We all want to leave but none of us can afford to break our contracts.”
This story has been updated to reflect Icon Clark, LLC as the owner of the property, not Ayman Khalil.