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Abbott tenants get day in court

Michele Parisi stands inside last working bathroom third floor Abbott Hotel. She is among five tenants still living SRO 721

Michele Parisi stands inside the last working bathroom on the third floor of the Abbott Hotel. She is among five tenants still living at the SRO at 721 W. Belmont. The new owners have turned off the heat, water and fire sprinklers. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Ti

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Updated: May 8, 2013 6:56AM

The last two residents of the Abbott Hotel relinquished their rooms Friday with their bank accounts a little fuller after city lawyers helped force a settlement.

Under terms of the agreement, the owners of the SRO building at 721 W. Belmont agreed to make an undisclosed “relocation” payment to Michele Parisi, the 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who they previously had been trying to persuade to leave by making the building uninhabitable.

That’s one of many cute landlord tricks commonly employed in this city that needs to be stopped.

If landlords want to argue they need relief from overly generous eviction laws, we can have that conversation. But the difficulty of performing a legal eviction doesn’t relieve anyone of the responsibility to treat poor people with basic dignity. That seems to be getting lost these days as the real estate market heats up again on the North Side.

While I don’t know the specific amount paid to Parisi, I have it on good authority that it was quite a bit more than what the owners were offering even on Thursday after my first column appeared on how they had shut off the hotel’s heat and water and generally demolished the interior — with five tenants still living there.

I’d like to think my coming unhinged in Friday’s follow-up column helped them see the error of their ways, but I’m guessing it had more to do with some forceful persuasion from Judy Frydland, a city attorney who hauled them into court Friday afternoon.

Under the deal Frydland helped forge, the owners agreed to put up Parisi in a decent hotel for the night, transport her there (saving everyone the embarrassment of having me do it again), and then bring her back Saturday morning to finish packing. Finally, they agreed to pay Parisi’s moving expenses to another residential hotel she has found on the Far North Side.

And while the settlement precludes disclosure of the amount of the cash payment, I think I can safely say that Parisi should be in very good shape for paying her rent for the next year.

Judge Pamela Hughes Gillespie signed off on the agreement after Parisi took an extra minute to go over the terms with her lawyers.

“My mother raised me right. She taught me never to sign something before I read it,” Parisi, an Evergreen Park native, told the judge.

Outside the courtroom, Parisi said she was happy with the deal.

“As we say in the Navy, you’ve done yeoman’s work, and I salute you,” she told me, marking the first time I’d ever been saluted by a sailor wearing a dress.

She was equally appreciative of her lawyers, Samira Nazem of the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing and Edward Mansell of Jenner & Block, who took the case pro bono.

Lawyers for BJB Properties, the company that is rehabbing the Abbott and other SROs along the North Lakefront to appeal to a more upscale clientele, are due back in court Monday.

At that time, the owners are expected to enter into another agreement with the city under which they will be required to make a $5,000 donation to Catholic Charities Homeless Services — as penance, I suppose.

That’s nice and all, but they donated more than six times that much to Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios to assure a friendly reception for their property tax lawyers, or should I say, to help him win election. Everybody has priorities.

If it were up to me, I’d rather see the judge require the owners to move into the Abbott for a week and experience the same abusive conditions they had created for the tenants and see how they like it.

Plus, I’d like to see the owners invite everyone who lived in the Abbott’s 88 rooms — before they started running them off — to a reunion party at one of the Wrigley Field rooftop clubs they own.

But I can be unreasonable like that.

Instead, the owners will be required to notify the city’s Law Department any time they are moving to vacate an SRO building, any time they start rehab work on an SRO, any time they run into tenant disputes, and any time a major building system is out of service at an SRO building.

That should help keep them on their toes as they try to plow through the tenants of their other properties slated for fixing up.

I still prefer my idea of putting them up for a week in the Abbott, just like it is, cold and miserable.

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