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Chicago SRO legal battle infested with bedbugs

With the Milshire Hotel closing, does the door shut on bedbugs?

At one point in the legal battle between residents of a Logan Square single-room occupancy building and the landlord who wanted them out, residents actually used bedbugs as a weapon in their argument to stay put.
In court, tenants tried to make the case that if they moved out of the Milshire Hotel, 2525 N. Milwaukee Ave., they’d be taking the hotel’s bedbugs with them, creating a public hazard. Now residents have relented. Under a signed settlement, tenants have agreed to move out of the troubled SRO by Sept. 2 in exchange for $4,000 per unit. As part of that agreement, Milshire management has also promised to provide so-called heat treatment boxes—used to kill items that may be covered with bedbugs—to residents as they pack their belongings. Any items that tenants suspect are infested may be left in the Milshire.
That should be enough to contain the bedbug problem to one building, according to a pest control expert.
“It has to be done properly, obviously,” said Jim Stavropoulos, manager of Eco Tech Pest Control on the Northwest Side. “So anything that comes out of the container or the heat chamber, that would be clear.”
The Milshire is just the latest battleground for Chicago’s SROs, which typically rent small bedrooms with shared kitchens and bathrooms. SROs have grown scarce in the city as developers buy the buildings, evict the tenants and rent remodeled units at market rates. Chicago has lost 30 SRO buildings to redevelopment since the beginning of 2009, according to the city. Now, there are 73 licensed SROs left.
Tenants of the Milshire have been tussling with management since April, when residents were notified of plans to sell the building and told to vacate. Some residents stayed and formed a tenants union; as of late July, about 18 residents remain in the building, according to a resident and head of the tenants union.
The Milshire tenant’s legal complaint against building management will not be officially withdrawn until all the tenants are out and have received their compensation, according to the settlement.
In the meantime, the city has a pending legal complaint against the building for violation of the bedbug ordinance. The infestation is so severe that the city claims the whole building needs to be gutted. But since the Milshire is a licensed SRO, it is subject to the city’s moratorium on renovation permits—and that could limit the kind of rehab work that could be done to mitigate the bedbug problem.
“The next big fight for the Milshire will be how to ensure that the moratorium is honored while the building court ensures that the building code violations are remedied,” said Mark Swartz of the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing in an email Monday.
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