URBANA — A Champaign County landlord who was convicted Wednesday of renting out a condemned apartment was in court again Thursday on charges that raw sewage is overflowing at his apartment complex near Rantoul.
Bernard Ramos, 36, was found guilty in a bench trial of criminal housing management Wednesday for renting an apartment with health and safety hazards at 709 W. Church St., C.
On Thursday, Bernard Ramos, and his father, Eduardo Ramos, appeared in court to answer charges that a septic system is leaking sewage at Cherry Orchard Village apartments, located on U.S. 45, just south of Rantoul village limits.
The father-and-son landlord team must return to court in two weeks with an attorney to enter their plea regarding a 3-year-old complaint by the state Department of Public Health. Judge John Kennedy denied their request for a one-month extension after admonishing them several times for interrupting him and talking during courtroom proceedings.
"I’ve seen you in this court before," Kennedy told Bernard Ramos. "You interrupt judges all the time. You’re not going to do it today."
Bernard Ramos and his father own apartment buildings and rental houses in Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul. Last year, the city of Champaign fined the landlords $15,345 for renting out two condemned apartments on Green Street.
At Cherry Orchard Village apartments, state health inspectors first found black sludge overflowing from a septic tank into a nearby field three years ago. Because the property is in an unincorporated area of the county, the state health department regulates the septic system.
Assistant State’s Attorney Christina Papavasiliou said the health department referred the case to her office after the landlords repeatedly failed to fix the sewer system. She said the defendants claim they have fixed the problem, but it continues to occur.
"We try to work with people," she said. "The legal process is a last resort. We will be able to prove willful disregard of the problem."
Both Bernard Ramos and Eduardo Ramos declined comment.
Last year, members of the Champaign County Board toured Cherry Orchard Village and observed numerous safety issues, board member Stan James said. In addition to junk cars and trash, he said, he observed an extension cord that was plugged in upstairs being used to power appliances in a downstairs apartment.
Residents live at the complex year-round, but its occupancy balloons in the summer and fall, when migrant workers from Texas and Mexico travel here with their families for field and harvest work.
James, who represents Rantoul on the county board, said unlike city laws, Champaign County ordinances do little to protect the health and safety of renters who live in the county. He has proposed drafting ordinances that would address public health and safety issues at rental properties and has called for more enforcement of existing state laws.
Some board members, however, are reluctant to enforce existing codes or enact new ones, James said, because "they’re concerned about inspectors going overboard."
"I drove by there the other day and I’m thinking to myself, ‘My God, how much longer are people going to live there until something happens?’"
Bernard and Eduardo Ramos are due back in court March 19 for the sewage complaint. If the landlords are found guilty, they could face a fine of up to $500 a day. Papavasiliou of the state’s attorney’s office said she could also seek an injunction barring anyone from living at the complex.
Bernard Ramos is scheduled to be sentenced for the misdemeanor conviction of criminal housing management on April 16. He could face up to 364 days in jail, two years of probation and a $2,500 fine.