Two Chicago hotels serve eviction notices to their tenants, but fate is unclear
08/17/2011 10:00 PM
Khoshoba Dawood spends most of his day at the Sheffield House single-room occupancy hotel caring for his son, a 24-year-old stroke patient. While his son’s condition has kept him from looking for a job, the SRO, at 3834 N. Sheffield Ave., has at least provided Dawood and his son with much-needed affordable housing.
On July 28, Dawood was slipped a note under the door that he must exit his room immediately — by July 29 at noon. While a manager for new property owner Sheffield LLC has let Dawood stay at the SRO, he has no idea what he will do when they kick him out.
“I cannot work, and I have no plan and no place to go,” he said.
The Sheffield House is one of two SROs that have abruptly shut down in Lakeview amid a change in ownership. The Bel Air Hotel, at 424 W. Diversey Ave., also served eviction notices in mid-July that went into effect this week on Monday.
It’s unclear if either the Bel Air or Sheffield House evictions are legally enforceable — or what will happen to the tenants who must leave.
The Sheffield House can hold 105 residents. According to accounts by Dawood and Adam Eugene, another tenant interviewed, about 30 tenants currently remain.
The Bel Air Hotel can hold about 250 residents and there are about 45 tenants left, according to Bel Air tenants who spoke at a Monday evening meeting organized by Lakeview Action Coalition.
A Bel Air property manager reached mid-day Tuesday declined to provide any information about the tenants’ status and quickly hung up the phone.
The remaining Bel Air and Sheffield tenants discussed banding together at the Monday meeting to fight the evictions. They plan to write a letter to the owner of each property, an idea encouraged by Bennett Lawson, chief of staff for Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).
A problem with that plan, though, is that no one seems to know who Bel Air’s new owner is.
Lawson dispelled rumors at the meeting, held at Holy Covenent Church, 925 W. Diversey Parkway, that the owner was developer Jamie Purcell — who recently purchased the Sheffield House Hotel under the moniker Sheffield LLC.
Purcell is involved in companies that own several other Lakeview properties.
Attempts to reach Purcell were unsuccessful, both under the name Sheffield LLC or BJB Partners LLC, another company with which he is associated.
As of Monday night, Bel Air’s property manager, A.H. Windmiller & Associates, had not locked out tenants or shut down utilities.
However, according to resident Leon Lieberman, hotel management “has made harassing calls to guests, demanding to know when they move. It’s bordering on threats.”
The Bel Air hotel’s phone was disconnected Monday. Anyone trying to reach the hotel was redirected to the number for A.H. Windmiller.
Calls made to get in touch with Windmiller President Dennis Windmiller were not returned. A Windmiller manager, who declined to give their name, confirmed Monday that they were people still living at the SRO.
“I’m not exactly sure what is going on,” the manager said. “No one is being evicted.”
Julie Harcum, an attorney for the Legal Assistance Foundation, asserts that any evictions are illegal. While Bel Air residents did receive a 30-day eviction notice, tenants were not notified individually, Harcum said. Also, Harcum said the new owner doesn’t seem to have gone through the proper legal channels, such as the Cook County sheriff’s office.
“In order to complete an eviction, a landlord has to go through the eviction process,” Harcum said. “They cannot just threaten to change the locks.”
The situation at Sheffield House is just as up in the air.
The one-day eviction notice blatantly violates the city’s Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance, which says all renters must get 30-day notices. This includes SRO occupants who are often not on leases and may have weekly or even daily pay arrangements.
However, tenants like Dawood and Eugene have stayed on as they search for another place to stay. “I asked a representative of the new owner if I could stay for two weeks,” Eugene said. “Some other people asked for five days.”
SROs are commonly thought of as semi-permanent residencies for the infirm and homeless. Bob Zuley, a volunteer at the Lakeview Action Coalition who has advocated against the SRO closings, said that they are also one of the few affordable options in affluent Lakeview.
“A lot of folks live in SROs — cab drivers, security guards,” Zuley said. “It’s relatively affordable and accessible and a shame we’re losing it.”
Other Lakeview SROs have also closed in recent years, including the Diplomat Hotel, Hotel Julian, and Lincoln Belmont.
The Lakeview Action meeting included representatives from Lakeview YMCA and Heartland Housing, who discussed short-term emergency living options for displaced tenants. Residents were also encouraged to look at Chicago Housing Authority public housing options.