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Criminal Charges Possible in Fire Aftermath

Circumstances surrounding fire in Highland Park home could lead to criminal investigation.

Investigators are still trying to determine how many people were living in this home on Glenview Avenue.
Investigators are still trying to determine how many people were living in this home on Glenview Avenue.

After it turned out at least nine people were living in a home at 581Glenview Avenue that burned Dec. 21 with two in basement bedrooms, Highland Park Police Chief Paul Shafer will not rule out a criminal investigation.

Two people were injured in the blaze, one of them critically. That man was unconscious inside the house when Highland Park firefighters arrived shortly after 4:25 a.m., discovered him with thermal imaging technology and got him out, according to Highland Park Fire Chief Pat Tanner.

The critically injured man, who was still in critical condition at the Loyola University Medical Center burn unit Thursday, according to Tanner, was found in one of two basement bedrooms. Basement bedrooms are a violation of the Highland Park Building Code, according to Highland Park Building Division Manager Scott Moe.

That was not the only code violation in a fire that was caused by outdated space heaters in the basement bedrooms, according to Tanner. There were no working smoke detectors.

“The cause was misuse of heating devices,” Tanner said. “There were no functioning smoke detectors in the home.” It is the responsibility of the homeowner, in this case a limited liability company, to provide the smoke detectors.

There are limits to the number of people living in a residence in the City but those requirements vary depending on relationships between the occupants as well as size, according to Moe. The exact number of people living there also remains in question. Nine people were outside the building and one inside when the firefighters arrived.

“It’s hard to say (how many were there) because people run away,” Tanner said. “We know about nine in the front yard.”

At this point, the investigation is one of code violations being conducted by the fire and building departments. That could change if it turns out the victims were injured because of a violation of the law.

“If an ordinance was violated and we feel there was reckless conduct, that somebody should know better, it could be something the (Lake County) State’s Attorney could take a look at,” Shafer said.

For now, the Highland Park City Council will discuss the matter in conjunction with its ongoing review of how it can require landlords of residential units to submit their property to inspection. That discussion is scheduled Jan. 13 during a meeting of the Council’s Committee of the Whole.

In September, the Council had a first look after Shafer brought citizen complaints to the City’s legislative body. At that time, it asked City Attorney Steve Elrod to take a look at what could be done, according to Moe.

Tanner is also concerned about space heaters in general in Highland Park homes. If they do not have automatic shutoff capability should they tip, he encourages people to get rid of them.

“If they’re older and have no automatic shutoff throw them out,” Tanner said. “They should be 12 inches away from the bed and anything flammable. Don’t plug them in to an extension cord.”

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Susan Kozloff December 30, 2013 at 08:07 AM
Often tenants bring in more people unbeknowing to the landlord. How can this be eliminated without police raids which must be illegal.
Highlands HP'er December 30, 2013 at 11:05 AM
In a proper lease a landlord would specify limitations on occupancy. A landlord would also periodically inspect the premises if anything to perform routine maintenance. Either you would have to have clever tenants who packed all their stuff in their cars and parked their cars blocks away when the landlord was on premises or a landlord who turns a blind eye. As a believer in the "simplest explanation being the most likely" its likely that it would be a landlord who was turning a blind eye. All they would need to do is demonstrate that the landlord knew of the situation and chose to ignore it. Find proof of one neighbor who complained to the landlord or a village citation and there you go.
Stuart Senescu December 30, 2013 at 11:06 AM
Good Work for the HPFD. I'm glad some of my tax money went to buying those thermal units and training our fire fighters. It is the landlord's responsibility to manage his property and know who is living there. Every lease allows the LL to inspect the property. If the LL turns a blind eye, then he/she should be held responsible. This is the LL's business and therefore not knowing the applicable building codes which apply is a reckless disregard for the human beings in his/her building. Like a movie from probably ten years ago, the LL should be forced to live a couple of months in this building. It would not surprise me to find the LL has several such buildings all with different corporate structures to hide the beneficial owner.
Stu Pidasso December 30, 2013 at 01:11 PM
Susan, it really is not that hard to figure out, if one really wants to find out... and WITHOUT a raid....
Sheldon Langer December 30, 2013 at 01:25 PM
The City of HP along w/ Highwood MUST do regular unannounced inspections of these types of low grade rental properties to multiple occupants. I am sure that these properties would NOT comply to Code....
Highlands HP'er December 30, 2013 at 04:02 PM
The city can't do unannounced inspections of people's homes. The constitution is pretty clear on what constitutes legal searches of private property. The government can't blindly send officials to peoples homes to conduct searches.
Sheldon Langer December 30, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Give the owners 1 weeks notice re: Inspection..
Highlands HP'er December 30, 2013 at 04:35 PM
They can announce it or not announce it. The government needs a search warrant or your permission to enter your house. You can simply deny them permission without repercussion. To issue a search warrant they would have to allege a specific crime. There would have to already be sufficient credible evidence of this crime indicating the search would be fruitful (they cant go on fishing expeditions). Whats more, permission from the landlord to enter the premises is NOT sufficient for the police to conduct a legal search of a tenant's rental.
David Greenberg December 30, 2013 at 05:36 PM
Inspections are a search under the 4th Amendment (US Sup Ct). "Camara v. City of San Francisco" (1967 I think). The landlord doesn't have to let anyone in to inspect anything. Go swear out a warrant for each property you want to inspect. That's "work" to be certain, but that's the procedure We, The People, gave to the Government when We constituted it - so that's what they get to do. As for inspecting the Tenant's space - if the language is in the Lease, the Landlord may or may not choose to allow that. The Tenant may not allow an inspection of 'common' areas. Who knows who knew what? The people involved - that's it. If anyone had some inkling of something illegal going on, they certainly could have notified the landlord or the City. Then the City can undertake the appropriate action(s) in the proper way. But I've seen plenty of instances where Landlords rented to the proper # of people, and they decided to get creative and let people 'hang out', 'crash on the couch', etc. and all of a sudden, there's a gazillion people living there, unbeknownst to the Landlord. Certainly if the tenant doesn't call, the rent comes in, the outside looks to be in good shape - why would the landlord be expected to happen by the property? Certainly, if something happens, the tenants or neighbors will call him otherwise, the Landlord may not be there for a while - say until Spring - when the owners are reviewing the premises for damage from the Winter, or prepping for a change in tenants who may or may not want to renew their leases... I wouldn't be so quick to put this on the landlord....
Jennifer German Mordini December 30, 2013 at 10:46 PM
I lived in that house from 2002 to 2007. Had the landlord not increased to rent so much, I'd still be there as I had no reason to move. I LOVED that house....but it certainly was not appropriate for 9 people. Oh my gosh, I can't imagine!!! The basement was not finished...it was more like a cellar...not living space at all! I can assure you, I had smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Too bad someone let this happen. What a cool house it was. What a huge shame.
forest barbieri December 30, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Likely, what happened is similar to many of the homes on Central and Old Deerfield, wherein they have multiple families in order to pay the rent. If you drive by these homes you will see many vehicles and indeed on my street there is a house with at least three families living in a rental and likely more. These houses are sometimes owned by what we used to call slumlords that have little concern for whom is occupying the house as long as they are getting their rent and the utilities are being paid. It is more an economic issue and likely not going to be legislated away. Highland Park is really much more diverse in terms of economic's than people like to think. We have some very well off N Shore people and we also have some of the poorest especially relative to a Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Glencoe, Wilmete et al.

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