One way or another, new State Senator Annazette Collins has a problem.
FOX Chicago News has found that Collins is claiming a homeowner's exemption on a condo in Hyde Park while also claiming that she lives in the district she represents on the West Side.
Democratic committeemen appointed then-Representative Collins to take over Rickey Hendon's seat last month. Since she's represented the same area since 2001, her actual residency was never raised as an issue during the appointment process.
But while Collins lists a rental unit on Warren Boulevard as her home on campaign and voting records, she's been collecting that homeowner's exemption on a condo five miles south of her legislative district. The law requires individuals to live in their homes in order to qualify for the tax break.
Kelley Quinn of the Cook County Assessor's office said their records show Collins has received $2,300 in property tax breaks for allegedly living in the condo in Hyde Park.
"According to our records, that is where she lives. We don't have proof of her owning any other property in Cook County," Quinn said. Collins would have been required to sign a form stating she lives at the Hyde Park address.
That could cause big problems for Senator Collins. Under the law, members of the General Assembly are required to live in the districts they represent. And that law is taken seriously: in 2005, lawmaker Patricia Bailey was removed from office after she was charged and convicted for living outside her district.
Collins refused to explain why has been claiming a homeowner's exemption on a property outside of her district. She said she bought the Hyde Park condo before she ran for office in 2000, and is now renting it to her mother and brother.
"You know every year when I run for re-election they say I don't live where I live," Collins said. "And every year it's proven that I live there. But you never report that. You never report any of the good things that we do."
Yet we found legal documents that show she is still receiving mail at the Hyde Park address, including letters from the mortgage company and a debt collection agency. The condo is being foreclosed.
And the Chicago Board of Elections said Collins' voting status was de-activated in 2010 when a canvass card sent to the West Side address where she said she lives was returned by the post office as "not deliverable." Collins has since been reinstated.
Political watchdog Cindi Canary said Collins can't have it both ways.
"She finds herself kind of between a rock and a hard place," Canary said. "You have to live in the house where you're getting the homeowner's exemption and you have to live in the district that you are representing. And in this case they don't overlap. So one way or another, she's got a problem."
Two of the Democratic committeemen who chose Collins to replace Hendon last month said they had no idea Collins has been getting a homeowner's exemption on a property that's not in her district, and they're not happy about it now.
The assessor's office said if they determine Collins is getting the exemption illegally, they could turn the case over to the Cook County State's Attorneys office for prosecution.