Urbana, landlord at odds over condition of apartment buildings

Urbana, landlord at odds over condition of apartment buildings

URBANA — Orange city notices telling people to stay out went up on a cluster of apartment buildings in southeast Urbana within the past week, but the owner says the non-occupancy notices will only remain while he remodels the apartments inside.

City officials, though, are taking a harder line with the apartment owner whose troubled buildings dot the area and who has outstanding fines for code violations.

"When you have a building that's unoccupiable and vacant, that's not a good thing," Community Development Director Libby Tyler said.

The buildings owned by Colorado Place LLC at 905, 1001 and 1003 E. Colorado Ave. were unoccupied to begin with. Manager Paul Zerrouki said all they need are new appliances, new carpet and a fresh coat of paint.

"The apartments inside, they need to be remodeled," Zerrouki said. "That's all it is."

He said the non-occupancy notices are a normal part of that process and will come down when he is finished.

There are 36 units in those three buildings that are "not suited for occupancy" and not up to all maintenance codes, Tyler said.

Zerrouki was involved in a much more urgent situation in February, when city officials required an emergency location of his tenants of 19 units in buildings at 1302, 1304 and 1401 Silver Street. A structural engineer had determined that walkways and stairways on the exterior of the buildings had deteriorated to a point where they were unsafe.

Zerrouki has since removed those unsafe structures and has received a permit to rebuild them. The city is reviewing his plans, which have already been revised once after the building required "more extensive removal than anticipated," Tyler said.

Theresa Michelson lives on Silver Street and said she is "just as confused as the next person."

"I sort of don't know what to say," Michelson said. "There just seems to be a pattern here."

She has watched how the city has handled her area's apartment properties but said she is not sure what to think of it.

"I wish it would go faster," Michelson said. "Maybe they will because now it just seems so glaring."

Code enforcement activity on Zerrouki's properties has been high. Tyler said the city has issued 46 abatement notices, and officials have documented 1,067 code violations.

Zerrouki has received 16 tickets for non-compliance — that totaled $2,400 in fines.

Tyler said as of Thursday afternoon, he had paid $400 worth of those fines. He is overdue on $1,800, and a $200 fine is due Friday.

Zerrouki has two misdemeanor counts of criminal housing management pending against him for allegedly endangering tenants on Jan. 17 at his apartment building at 2018 Fletcher Street and on Jan. 22 at 1302 Silver Street by ordering or permitting smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers to be removed.

Prosecutors allege he shuffled the fire equipment from building to building in an attempt to fool city inspectors. He next appears in court on Sept. 6.

Tyler said the vacant apartments in the 900 and 1000 block of East Colorado Avenue will need to be registered on the city's vacant buildings list. Owners of buildings on that list must submit a plan of how they intend to get them up to code and reoccupied.

"That's what lies ahead, but this was a first step," Tyler said, although she added that the process sometimes ends in demolition.

Zerrouki said he feels targeted by the city and is miffed by how inspectors have treated him.

The inspector "comes every week violating my rights without a notice," Zerrouki said.

Zerrouki also said that he has done everything the city has asked of him.

"I do the job and comply, and they fine me anyway," Zerrouki said.

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Daxndata wrote on August 16, 2013 at 7:08 am

This guy seems to be under the delusion that the City of Urbana cares about his plight.  Well, they don't!  Urbana and any other city that has ordinances similar to Urbana's are just in it for the money.  They may say that their interest is for public safety, but it is really just the money.  Why do they keep loading him up with fines?  Wouldn't that money be better spent in addressing the "defficiencies"  (did I spell that right?) of the subject properties?  Stop harrassing this guy and allow him to tend to his properties.

Reykjavik wrote on August 16, 2013 at 7:08 am

This guy seems like a typical scumbag landlord that  is under the delusion he can abuse any law and exploit needy renters just to line his pocket.  Well, hopefully the City of Urbana will uphold the rights of renters and the neighbors by requiring him to follow ordinances.  He is whining all the way about a few thou, but the problem is his rotten attitude and shoddy, exploitative standards.  Maybe the city can get him to clean up his act.  I hope that the city aggressively pursues creeps like this.

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on August 16, 2013 at 9:08 am

I agree 100% with Reykjavik.  46 abatement notices, 1,067 code violations, 16 tickets for non-compliance....and this results in ONLY $2,400 of fines?  For way too long, the laws and rules have been skewed in favor of the rental property owners.  If the city governments don't look out for the tenants, nobody else will.  The property owners all realize this, knowing that most tenants are somewhat transient and have little if any political clout.  This allows the ones that are lazy, greedy or just flat-out uncaring to operate in the same manner as this piece-of-work.  The fact that he hasn't been fired indicates that the same attitude exists with the property owners, Colorado Place LLC.   Perhaps a little bit of bad publicity (or perhaps it's "sunshine"?) regarding their actions, or lack thereof, is a good thing.

787 wrote on August 16, 2013 at 9:08 am

If the guy tended to his properties as he should, he wouldn't have the City after him.

I know people who are landlords.  When you do the right thing and keep your units and buildings in good repair, *all* of the time, then there aren't any problems.

Once you are known to do things like knowingly move fire extinguishers around when your buildings are due for inspection.... that's when the problems will start.  Doing things like that is just asking for additional scrutiny.

grammadog wrote on August 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

I had a similar landlord in a single family home and had a building inspector come after I had complained about the lack of screens on my windows to which my landlord had his "maintenance" man (read buddy) come and staple a screen to the frame. This pseudo screen then blew off on the first windy day and when I called to complain he just laughed. Then I found out the smoke detectors didn't work. When the building inspector came he found 47 violations. In just my single family home. Including a gas line that wasn't properly working. After I complained, this wonderful landlord decided to try to cut my chain lock on my door and enter my premises one day while I was laying down. When my 120 pound dog jumped at the door and prevented him from entering and he threatened me, I'd had enough. I moved. Ironically enough, this man had so many complaints that eventually all of his rental properties were later foreclosed on. Perhaps karma came into play.  I have now had the best landlords in Urbana for my third leasing year. They quickly respond to any call. If there are any issues they fix them right away. If all landlords were like them there would be no need for people like this twit to complain that he's being harrassed. 

cretis16 wrote on August 16, 2013 at 7:08 pm

At least with the colorado street complexes closed, we have a reduction in crime, police calls, and general mayhem in the area. That place is an eyesore, and ask any local policeman off the record what he thinks of that place, and ya get a real ear full.