Levin helps condo board president ‘bully,’ say frustrated board members
Loop North News

ELLIS LEVIN

Levin helps condo board president “bully,” say frustrated board members

Thorndale Beach North

  • Former state representative, Marina Towers condo attorney now running for Cook County judge.
  • Let go by Thorndale Beach South, Levin still works for Thorndale Beach North.
  • (Left) Thorndale Beach North, a 151-unit condominium at 5901 North Sheridan Road.

    12-Jan-12 – A Chicago attorney running for Circuit Court judge will not have to worry about name recognition at the condominium he represents, or the two condos from which he was fired in recent years.

    For more than ten years, Ellis Levin has been the attorney for Thorndale Beach North, a 151-unit condominium in the Edgewater community north of downtown Chicago. The building was used in exterior shots of Bob’s apartment in the 1970s version of The Bob Newhart Show.

    Ellis Levin Levin (left), a former Illinois legislator and longtime attorney for Marina Towers Condominium Association, is one of seven candidates running in the county’s 8th sub-circuit that includes Edgewater and downtown Chicago. The next primary election is scheduled for March 20.

    Though much smaller, there are striking similarities between Thorndale Beach North Condominium Association and Marina Towers Condominium Association, with Levin as the attorney for both until 2009. Both have as their president a long-serving woman. Both at times have had a noticeably hostile relationship with some unit owners. Both paid Levin by the hour and both saw their legal fees blossom beyond what was budgeted.

    Both have warned unit owners not to confront board members outside official meetings or else risk fines. And both have seen the same people on the board, year after year, who many believe are selected by a small number of owners who control a large number of proxy votes.

    A big difference is that while the Marina Towers condo board has largely marched in step, occasionally against frustrated unit owners, dissent at Thorndale Beach North has taught two owners that not even being on the board of directors will spare them from the wrath of the condo board president.

    74-year-old Sigrid Ingold, owner of two units at Thorndale Beach North, has not only been president of the condominium board of directors for the past 19 years, but for the past five years she has been the building’s property manager, a part-time position paying $43,000 per year.

    Levin and Ingold are described as “a bad combination,” with the former state representative – who served Chicago in the General Assembly from 1977 to 1995, and in 1983 co-authored amendments to the Illinois Condominium Property Act – now reduced to sending threatening letters to disgruntled condo owners.

    “Legal fees really increased once he lost Marina City,” says Bogdan Bogdan, a foreman with the Chicago Park District who has lived at Thorndale Beach North for eight years and has served on the condo board since last April.

    In 2009, according to a statement compiled by an outside CPA firm, legal expenses at Thorndale Beach North, budgeted at $20,000, were actually $30,225 or 51 percent over budget. In 2010, legal fees, still budgeted at $20,000, were actually $43,556, or 117 percent over budget and representing four percent of the association’s entire expenses.

    Bogdan has received several letters from Levin, and so has Catherine McCarty, who works in property management for another building and has been on the Thorndale Beach North board for five years. Like the letter informing them they were being fined for trying to talk with Ingold in her office about a roof repair project.

    McCarty says she was concerned because “a notice to unit owners about the work claimed to have come from the board of directors” and yet she knew nothing about it. After telling McCarty to “stop harassing me,” Ingold, according to McCarty, slammed shut her office door.

    Recalled McCarty on Tuesday, “I had never seen anything so hilarious.”

    Less hilarious was the $150 fine she was threatened with in the letter from Levin, who accused McCarty of harassing Ingold – who, he claims, was “concerned for her physical safety.”

    Levin portrayed as defender of dysfunctional condo board

    Unit owners describe the condo board president as “manipulative” and “a megalomaniac.” Chauffeured by a building custodian, when she returns to her office at Thorndale Beach North, she is often seen watching on a laptop computer video from surveillance cameras.

    Says McCarty, “She’s even told me whenever it’s election time, ‘I get the proxies I need. I see people come home and I go and I…ask them for the proxy.’”

    According to a candidate data sheet she signed on April 4, 2011, Ingold has lived at Thorndale Beach North for more than 40 years. She attended an unspecified business college and dental school and claims she was Director of Roycemore School, a private school in Evanston, from 1990 to 1992. However, the current headmaster of Roycemore School, Joseph Becker, said on Thursday, “I have been with the school for 42 years, and I do not pretend to remember everyone, but this is simply not a name that I recognize.”

    Levin, who is not spared unkind words, is blamed for putting up with Ingold’s behavior. Says McCarty, “He lets her go off on her tangents and her power trips by writing these types of letters that reinforces her…bullying.”

    She says Levin “should know better.”

    McCarty says Levin defends the lack of transparency, not just between the condo board and unit owners, but also between the condo board president and the board. “We don’t get to see bank statements, we don’t get to see invoices. We don’t even have an audit.”

    In the past 44 years, the only audit that has ever been done, to show Thorndale Beach North’s true financial condition, was 15 years ago.

    Being slow with financial documents may cost the association. On December 28, 2010, Michael Guingona, who claims he lost a sale of a condo unit because Ingold did not produce documents requested by his buyer, sued Thorndale Beach North for $110,000. After several months of waiting, says Bogdan, the buyer’s patience ran out. Levin is not listed as an attorney in the case and according to court records, the case is still pending.

    Coerced into signing confidentiality agreement, board member claims

    Levin stood up, leaned over a table, pounded on the tabletop, and said, “you have to sign this.”

    Summoned to a strategy meeting on October 6, 2011, with attorneys for the association’s insurance company, facing a lawsuit by a TBN contractor, Levin presented board members with a “confidentiality agreement.”

    Each board member was asked to agree “if there is any evidence that he or she has breached this confidentiality agreement, that member’s signature on this agreement shall be treated as that member’s immediate resignation from the Board of Managers of Thorndale Beach North Condominium Association.”

    McCarty refused to sign. “Anyone can say anything about anyone and anyone can say that I said something even though I didn’t, then you would say, ‘ha ha, I got your signature on here, you’re off the board.’”

    She says Levin stood up, leaned over a table, pounded on the tabletop, and said, “you have to sign this.”

    Levin then allegedly asked one of the insurance company attorneys to tell the board members they had to sign the agreement but the attorney declined. When Ingold wanted to move the meeting to her apartment, but leave behind McCarty and Bogdan, who had also refused to sign, Levin did not object, according to Bogdan, but the other attorneys refused to go along with that as well.

    Their refusal to sign, says McCarty, more than annoyed Ingold. “All during this meeting, she kept telling Bogdan that he was ‘stupid.’”

    Later, as McCarty was leaving the room, she says she heard Ingold say, “And you, Mrs. McCarty, you think you’re so smart. I’m going to take you down.”

    The next morning, McCarty found on her door a letter from Levin, dated October 6, saying she was being fined $450 plus $1,554 in legal fees. This time she was accused of “attempting to interfere in the work of association employees.” The letter referred to an incident on September 26 in which McCarty spoke with a building employee installing tiles in an office about sewer work being done. Levin, however, claimed it was a “verbal attack” that caused the employee “great distress” and was meant to “fluster and frighten him.”

    Proxy votes and Levin the root of condo problems, say owners

    On the Thorndale Beach North Forum, a WordPress.com blog, residents complain of the usual condo issues – high special assessments, low property values, perceived mismanagement, lack of transparency – and a relatively new concern, “proxy” votes that allow a unit owner to give up his or her vote to someone else.

    The consensus at Thorndale Beach North is that Ingold controls 70 percent of these proxy votes, allowing her to remain in power year after year. According to an anonymous writer on the blog, “She is able to do this by demanding proxy votes from unit owners through intimidation, guile or favors.”

    Much of the blame is aimed at Levin. “In our opinion, Mr. Levin is one of the main causes of many of the troubles faced by unit owners. He needs to be fired, and replaced with a lawyer who is both less expensive and more ethical. Of course, this will never happen with the current management in place.”

    (Right) Home page of Thorndale Beach North Forum.

    Thorndale Beach North Forum

    According to unit owners at Thorndale Beach North, Levin was also fired recently as attorney for Thorndale Beach South, a condominium located at 5855 North Sheridan Road.

    The TBN Forum believes it is a conflict of interest for Ingold to be both property manager and condo board president. “If you are unhappy with any decision made by the building manager or question an expense or fine, your only recourse is to take it up to the board which is run by the same person.”

    They say Ingold “has come to believe that she practically owns the building.” They recall a dispute she had with a neighbor over a clogged sink drain both units shared.

    “As the building manager, she called an emergency plumber although it was not an emergency. Then she stuck the neighbor with the entire bill. When he refused to pay more than half of the amount, as the president of the board, she sued him. When he won the case, she again wielded her power as board president to appeal the decision. If this is not an abuse of power and waste of our assessments, I’m not sure what is.”

    According to a summary of the Circuit Court case, Ingold, on behalf of the condo association, sued Viorel Berar on September 28, 2010, for $5,846.95. Levin is representing the association and the case is still pending.

    Looking for positive change, board members find Levin

    When asked why he wanted to be on the board, Bogdan says it was “to make a positive change. To make it transparent.” Instead, he is accused of trying to “systematically harass and interfere with” the condo board president.

    When they tried to organize a meeting to consider less expensive bids for a roofing project, Levin sent a two-page letter to unit owners explaining why such a meeting could not be held. The winning bid, according to TBN Forum, was “by far the most expensive (by over $100,000) of the three bids that were proffered.”

    Bogdan tells of the two-page letter he received from Levin explaining why, based on the condominium’s declaration and the Illinois Condominium Property Act, and complete with a case law citation, he could not use the condo association’s recreation room.

    “They keep telling us, Levin and the rest of the board, [that] we have a fiduciary duty. We do and we’re trying to accomplish that.”

    As for McCarty, also accused of harassing and interfering, whatever complaints she may have about the condo board president will have to be expressed in a letter. Her fellow board members voted on September 1 to bar her and Bogdan from communicating directly with Ingold outside of board meetings.

    [Levin has not replied to repeated requests for comment. However, we continue to welcome his response.]

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    By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

    Published 12-Jan-12 10:41 PM

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