Urbana gives two apartment buildings 'F'; landlord appeals
URBANA — The battle between city officials and a landlord continued this week as two more complexes fell to an "F" grade on the city's rental registration list and residents face evacuation if the situation is not addressed.
Landlord Paul Zerrouki is appealing the city's ruling that cockroach infestations are so bad as to make two buildings unlivable. His appeal is scheduled to be heard Monday, but Zerrouki said it might not even get that far — he says the infestation is already being addressed.
The city sent letters to residents of the 31 occupied units in the two buildings that their landlord had failed inspections. Based on the failures, city officials want to deny Zerrouki's rental registration for the buildings at 703 E. Colorado Ave. and 1305 Silver St.
Zerrouki's businesses operate under the names BZ Management and Platinum Group Properties. Rental registration is required if Zerrouki wants to continue renting the buildings, and residents will have to move out if his appeal is denied.
The Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union has offered to help tenants in those buildings understand their rights and to find another place to live if they are forced out. But given most of the residents' financial needs, Tenant Union Director Esther Patt said it could be impossible to find a new home.
Some residents had moved to those two complexes this year when Platinum Group Properties buildings across the street from 1305 Silver were evacuated after balconies and stairways were found to have structural defects. Zerrouki is rebuilding those structures and remodeling the apartments.
Urbana building safety manager John Schneider said all 12 units and common areas at 1305 Silver St. had roaches. He said city officials observed roaches in all but a few of the 28 units at 703 E. Colorado Ave.
"We had three units that we didn't observe cockroaches," Schneider said.
Zerrouki blames the most recent failures on his tenants' habits.
"Some tenants, for their poor housekeeping, they have bugs, roaches," Zerrouki said.
He said he had hired an exterminator a while ago at the recommendation of the city, but that exterminator was not effective. He has since hired Orkin, which has produced "a tremendous, tremendous result now."
Zerrouki owns buildings in both Urbana and Champaign. Champaign does not have a rental registration program, but Platinum Group Properties has shown up relatively frequently in lists of tenants' complaints in that city.
The landlord has butted heads with city officials before. The two failures from this month and his three other Silver Street buildings are the only five properties in the city of Urbana with "F" grades following inspections.
Zerrouki has been cited for code violations dozens of times and has paid thousands of dollars in fines. City officials say it is their effort to create livable conditions for residents.
Zerrouki said he is working hard to keep up his buildings, and he wants the city to lay off.
"Whether I comply, whether I don't comply, they charge me some fines," Zerrouki said. "Leave me some space, I want to do some business."