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2 Residential Hotels Closing In Lakeview

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Residents have now been ordered to move out of two of the few remaining single-room occupancy hotels in the greater Lakeview neighborhood.

The Windy City Times reported Wednesday that the Sheffield House Hotel, 3834 N. Sheffield Ave., and the Belair Hotel, 424 W. Diversey Pkwy., have been sold and are closing. CBS 2 reported on the Sheffield House late last month.

The closings mean 350 residents between the two hotels, some of whom have HIV, mental illness and a variety of disabilities, will be displaced, the newspaper reported.

The Belair announced July 13 that it would close on Monday, Aug. 15, and its 250 tenants would have to leave, the Windy City Times reported. The Sheffield House, formerly known as the Hotel Carlos, announced July 28 and 29 that it was "closed effective immediately for repairs" and everyone had to leave.

But 20 to 40 people have remained in the building, and landlords cannot forcibly evict them without a court order, the newspaper reported.

The Sheffield House Hotel is located about a block from Wrigley Field, and some Cubs baseball players lived there during the 1930s, according to the hotel's now-offline Web site. But in the past year before it was purchased by its current owner, the hotel was found to have violated 53 building codes, the Windy City Times reported.

The notice ordering residents to pack up and move out was posted on July 29, but was taken down when CBS 2's Mai Martinez and her crew began asking questions. But residents were livid.

"Right now, I'm sort of like, see I'm packing up most of my stuff," resident Keith Jackson said on July 29. "I'm packing up my stuffed animals, my clothes, my blankets."

Jackson had to pack up all his belongings after getting a notice from the new management at Sheffield House, stating: "Please remove all your belongings from the unit and vacate the building no later than 1 p.m. on July 29, 2011."

The Belair Hotel houses month-to-month residents, but also markets itself as a conventional hotel for those who stay out late at the nearby bars. Among its most famous past residents is the late Chicago gay issues columnist Jon-Henri Damski, who helped pass the city's Human Rights Ordinance in 1998, the Windy City Times reported.

But change has appeared imminent at the hotel for some time. In recent years, its old Belair Lounge lobby bar, described on Yelp as a "five-star dive bar," was supplanted by the upscale wine and cocktail lounge Fion, which is owned by the same firm as fellow Belair building tenant Duffy's Tavern and Grille.

Critics have questioned the legality of the decisions to close the hotels.

Regarding the Sheffield House, eviction attorney Rich Magnone said it's illegal for the management company to force tenants out of their units without giving them more notice. He said that, generally a week or 30 days notice is required, based on whether they were weekly or monthly renters.

Lakeview Action Coalition executive director Jennifer Ritter told the Windy City Times the closures will leave many of the hotels' residents homeless.

Single-room occupancy hotels began appearing in Chicago in the late 19th century as housing for transient workers, the Encyclopedia of Chicago recalls. While the hotels that remain today have private rooms, some of the older facilities were "cage hotels" – one large room subdivided with boards or sheets of metal for walls, and chicken wire for a ceiling. Others were open rooms filled with beds, or actual flophouses where guests slept on the floor, the encyclopedia recalled.

The largest concentration of residential hotels was located along Madison Street on the Near West Side, which by the 1950s had become infamous as Skid Row.

Many of the old hotels closed in subsequent years, but tragedy has struck those that have remained even in relatively recent years. Most infamously, on March 16, 1993, 20 people were killed when a fire swept through the Paxton Hotel, a single-room occupancy facility at 1432 N. LaSalle Blvd. in the Old Town neighborhood.

Two years before the fire, a new building code distinction had changed the definition of SRO buildings so they were no longer considered hotels, and thus made it so the Paxton never had to install an alarm system that was wired to the Fire Department. Building codes have been tightened since then.

The Lakeview area was also home to several residential hotels, but they are becoming fewer and farther between. One well-known facility, the Diplomat Hotel at 3208 N. Sheffield Ave., was vacated and closed in 2009 after building and fire code violations were found. The door at the hotel remains boarded up to this day.

A handful of residential hotels remain in the area, including the Hotel Chateau at 3838 N. Broadway, the Leon Hotel at 2703 N. Clark St., and the Covent Hotel at 2653 N. Clark St. A concentration of SROs also remains in the Uptown neighborhood to the north.

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