Landlords have deadline to vacate apartments in health complaint
By PAM G. DEMPSEY/CU-Citizen Access
A Champaign father-son landlord team has until Dec. 20 to vacate five apartment buildings at the Cherry Orchard apartment complex south of Rantoul under an agreement with the Champaign County Public Health Department.
Bernard Ramos and his father Eduardo agreed to the deadline in an ongoing three-year-old case the health department has brought against the two.
Both the Ramoses and the health department came to a verbal agreement in November, and that agreement was followed up with a letter from the Champaign County state's attorney's office Nov. 29, said Jim Roberts, director of environmental health for the health department.
Bernard Ramos declined comment for this story. His attorney, Don Parkinson, withdrew from the case in November.
The health department's case stems from a September 2007 complaint where inspectors noticed sewage and wastewater flowing from the property's septic system into a nearby farm field.
Ramos and his father oversee the apartment complex on U.S. 45 south of Rantoul's village limits. It is commonly known as Cherry Orchard Apartments and is most used during the summer to house migrant workers. Tenants complained earlier this year to the media about conditions including rotting floors, mold growth and inadequate heat at the complex.
A civil complaint was filed with the Champaign County state's attorney's office last year because Ramos and his father had not legally connected the property's sewer and septic systems.
Though officials have not observed any further overflow since then, "we have good reason to believe they are not tied into a proper system," said Christina Papavasiliou, assistant state's attorney who is representing the county.
In September, the health department agreed to hire septic professionals to inspect the system at the request of the assistant state's attorney after the Ramoses repeatedly delayed doing so themselves.
The inspection found that the system was not legally connected to a public or private sewer system, Papavasiliou said.
The five-count complaint alleges that Ramos and his father illegally discharged sewage, rented property without a legal sewer system, failed to obtain a construction permit to make repairs to their septic system and repaired and altered the septic system without a license. The Ramoses can be fined between $100 and $500 for each violation.
As part of the agreement with the county health department, Ramos and his father had until Dec. 3 to empty two buildings on the property and until Dec. 20 to remove tenants from the remaining three buildings, Papavasiliou said.
Because a majority of the tenants are migrant workers, it is unclear how many tenants will need to be relocated, Papavasiliou said.
"The health department will verify that the tenants no longer occupy the buildings in our agreed time frame," Roberts said. "If tenants are relocated to buildings on that property, the health department will verify that those buildings have known legal private sewage systems that have been serviced and that are operating properly."
An inspector found that the Ramoses did not meet the Dec. 3 deadline, Roberts said.
There are two other buildings on the property, including a four-plex and a duplex, Roberts said. The condition of the sewer system at the four-plex is unknown, and the Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a construction permit for the sewer system at the duplex.
The Ramoses may rent out the five buildings they are scheduled to vacate only after a legal sewage system is constructed and installed, Roberts said.
The problems with this property have prompted county officials to strengthen habitability and nuisance ordinances and to allow stronger enforcement when life and safety are endangered. The county approved amendments to the ordinances in August that now better define dangerous structures, said John Hall, the county's planning and zoning director.
Until recently, Bernard Ramos and his family owned at least two dozen properties in Champaign County. Several on Green and Church streets in Champaign were condemned and cited for multiple violations, according to city and county records.
Several properties have been sold since December 2009, according to county property records.
Since last year, Bernard Ramos has filed twice for bankruptcy. Both cases were dismissed because he failed to file necessary information, according to federal bankruptcy court records.
This summer, Bernard Ramos also served 30 days of a 60-day jail sentence and was fined $1,000 for renting an apartment at 709 W. Church St., C, in 2008 that had health and safety hazards.
This followed a $15,000 fine from the City of Champaign for renting out two condemned properties on Green Street.
A status hearing on the county's case is scheduled for Dec. 20.
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