Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Judge declares residential hotel a fire hazard, tenants ordered to leave in 24 hours

By Mark Brown, columnist

A Near West Side residential hotel undergoing renovation must be vacated by noon Thursday under an emergency order from a Cook County judge who declared it a fire hazard.

Monday’s ruling by Circuit Court Judge Edward Harmening left the 19 remaining residents of the Rosemoor Hotel, 1622 W. Jackson, scrambling for new places to live.

“I think they did me an injustice,” Jerry Siggers, 74, told me Wednesday as we stood outside the building where he has lived the past 14 years. Siggers doesn’t know where he can go on such short notice.

Harmening issued his order to empty the building after city fire inspectors informed him conditions created by ongoing construction work at the building posed an extreme danger to the residents, as well as to firefighters.

You may recall that it was just a few weeks ago that I was telling you how the Rosemoor, owned by luxury car dealer Joe Perillo, had agreed to pay an undisclosed cash settlement to residents who had formed a tenants union and sued over conditions at the building and the tactics employed to remove them.

I figured that was the end of that story. Perillo told me at the time he would be moving full speed ahead with plans to fix up the former flophouse and take it upscale — for which he had already obtained the necessary permits before Mayor Rahm Emanuel imposed a six-month moratorium on SRO closings and conversions.

All but one of the residents involved in the settlement already have moved, but 18 other residents who never joined the tenants union remained in the building.

Presumably, those residents agreed to pay the higher rents imposed by Perillo’s management team after he bought the building and immediately started marketing it to a new clientele.

It was a madcap scene at the front door of the Rosemoor late Wednesday afternoon as veteran West Side organizer Elce Redmond and representatives from the Metropolitan Tenants Organization informed residents of their rights and tried to convince them to stay in the building until Perillo agrees to pay them relocation assistance.

All the while, a manager from the building known only to me as Dennis observed the proceedings nearby and then pulled residents aside, to re-educate them after they were finished talking to me or the organizers.

We were standing under the classic neon Rosemoor Hotel sign, the lights not working on the t-e-l letters. The result: “Rosemoor Ho.”

I have mostly encountered quiet elderly folks on my visits there, people like Siggers, who said his daughter is going to try to help him find a place but agreed to attend the next scheduled court hearing on Friday.

IIT student Cunwang Chen, originally from Shanhai, politely begged off from attending the hearing. He said he has a previous appointment — with a doctor to treat the nasty bedbug bites he received while living at the Rosemoor.

Chen said he doesn’t like having to move on such short notice.

“Nobody likes it, but we don’t want to break the law,” Chen said.

That was the cue for Redmond and Saul Garcia of Metropolitan Tenants Organization to tell him and the others they won’t be breaking any law at this point.

“They cannot just throw you guys out. You have to stay. If you leave, you’ll have trouble getting any relocation assistance,” Redmond said.

Two other young guys, Saudi and Somalian immigrants who have lived at the Rosemoor two years, liked the sound of the relocation assistance but also weren’t sure what to do.

All they had for guidance until now was a sign posted on the door that said by court order they must vacate by noon — and some verbal instructions from Dennis.

Notably, the city has been nowhere to be found on that part of the equation since sending in the inspectors and asking for the order to vacate.

I found that a little ironic, coming on the same day Emanuel’s administration introduced its ordinance to preserve SROs and residential hotels, which contains strict relocation protections for tenants.

According to a city spokesman, city lawyers had asked the judge to appoint a receiver, who would have been able to provide tenants with relocation assistance, but the owner objected and the judge denied the request.

That allowed Perillo’s team to proceed with the usual approach of giving the tenants the bum’s rush, the problem there being that whatever fire hazard exists it’s of management’s making.