URBANA — Residents of three apartment complexes in southeast Urbana were relocated on Thursday after the city found structural problems with the buildings, and the property manager says he is already working with an engineer to correct the issues.
Residents of 19 units in buildings at 1302, 1304 and 1401 Silver St. had been moved to other buildings under the same property manager after officials received a structural engineer's report that walkways and stairways on the exterior of the buildings had deteriorated to a point where they were unsafe, said Libby Tyler, the city's community development director.
"Our first concern today is that the residents are safe," Tyler said on Thursday afternoon.
The buildings must be cordoned off, and the owner, Platinum Properties Group, will be required to work with a structural engineer and present a corrective plan to the city within 14 days. In the meantime, those buildings will need to remain unoccupied.
The property manager, Paul Zerrouki, said he is already working with a structural engineer to correct the problems, and he plans to have a report submitted to the city on time. He said he hopes to get a building permit to begin work on the stairways and balconies within one month.
"We want to be safe," Zerrouki said. "We don't want a problem."
Tyler said it is a "localized" problem, and the structural issues do not pose any danger to neighboring buildings. The condemned buildings simply are getting older, she said.
As long as the structural issues are fixed, the buildings do not need to be torn down.
City officials have been working with Zerrouki during the past two years to secure the buildings he manages in that area. Two weeks ago, he was charged with criminal housing management, a misdemeanor, for allegedly shuffling fire equipment from one building to the next to pass city inspections.
The charges allege that Zerrouki endangered tenants on Jan. 17 at his apartment building at 2018 Fletcher St. and on Jan. 22 at 1302 Silver St. by ordering or permitting smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers to be removed.
Tyler said she is comfortable moving residents to other buildings under the same property manager as long as those apartments are maintained.
"As long as they meet the codes, absolutely," Tyler said. "This is all about the safety codes, and I think it's an opportunity to let people know that we have building safety codes and we do catch these things."
On Thursday, Zerrouki said he is working hard to address all the issues.
The structural issues "just happened," Zerrouki said. "We'd like to be careful."