Chicago, IL

Days Before Swift Mansion Fire Owner Said to Illegally Evict Tenants Prompting Arson Investigation

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Nine residents living at historical mansion suing owners for unlawful eviction on November 30, just 3 days prior to massive fire destroyed much of building
Swift Manor on fire December 3 2023Photo byScreen Capture/Youtube Video [Creator]

Swift Mansion, a historic building at 4500 S. Michigan Ave., faces scrutiny after two tenants, along with seven neighbors, claim they were entangled in an eviction dispute just days before a massive fire engulfed the structure, triggering an arson investigation.

Residents Wendell Smith and Aaron Wade, part of the nine-member community residing in the 131-year-old mansion, filed a lawsuit on Nov. 29 against owners Maurice Perkins and his children, Marcus and Heather Perkins. The tenants allege illegal eviction practices, asserting that the Perkins family aimed to force them out for potential conversion of the building into a migrant shelter.

Living under month-to-month leases with shared room occupancy, the tenants paid $400 until an abrupt rent increase to $500 in October. On Nov. 6, the residents were verbally informed to vacate by month-end, without official written notice. The lawsuit contends the lack of notice and claims of uninhabitable conditions, including bed bugs, holes in the ceiling, and rats, led to police intervention and a citation for "uninhabitable conditions."

Seeking $10,000 each for damages and emotional distress, Smith and Wade, along with advocate Selina Kyle, emphasize the dire living conditions and construction efforts initiated by the owners after the fire on the second floor.

The fire, occurring on a Sunday morning, tore through the roof of the 1892 Richardsonian Romanesque building. Although no injuries were reported, the extent of damage remained uncertain as structural assessments were underway.

Swift Mansion, originally a gift in 1893 to Helen Swift Morris and Edward Morris, witnessed varied roles from a funeral home to the Chicago Urban League headquarters. Owned for over two decades by Maurice and Christine Perkins, the building, once listed for $2.7 million in 2017, now faces uncertainty due to the fire and potential structural damage.

Maurice and Christine Perkins, former nightclub owners, transitioned to community service, establishing the Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation at Swift Mansion. Their journey from nightclub owners to philanthropists showcases a commitment to community development.

As investigations unfold, the tragedy at Swift Mansion intertwines legal battles, living conditions, and the preservation of a historic landmark. The fate of this Bronzeville building hangs in the balance, prompting questions about the responsibilities of property owners and the need for robust tenant protections.

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