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Housing cases in Champaign can drag on for years

CHAMPAIGN -- In some housing cases in Champaign, landlords have been granted years to make repairs and have not been fined, according to city housing records and a Sept. 3 property maintenance report.

“It’s not always easy,” Assistant City Attorney Laura Hall said of the housing inspection and enforcement process. If it were, “we wouldn’t have cases that start in 2006 and end in 2009.”

A tenant at 613 W. Church St. filed a complaint with the city in June 2006, noting that the carpet was dirty and the ceiling above the stove was sagging, according to city housing records.

Inspectors cited the landlord, George Klatt, for 31 violations including inadequate plumbing facilities, nonworking smoke detectors and lack of permanent electrical wiring.
Klatt repaired 20 violations by Aug. 1, 2006, according to city records. By April 2007, five of the 31 violations remained. By May 2008, Klatt had repaired all but two. He had yet to install an additional bathroom in his boarding house, noted on the report as “inadequate plumbing facilities.”

As of this past August, the problem remained, according to the Sept. 3 report.

Klatt, who owns about 40 rental properties in Champaign and Urbana, said in November that he’s waiting for the city to approve plans he submitted before he installs the bathroom.

He and the city have since entered into an agreed order to install the bathroom. He has until Feb. 20 to complete the installation, Hall said. A status hearing is schedule for Feb. 24.

Klatt said landlords are often cited for inoperable or missing smoke detectors – a violation that can be the fault of the tenant.

Klatt said he spends about $150 every two months replacing batteries or detectors in the units.
Rents in some units of 613 W. Church St. are about $380 a month, including utilities, and serve low-income tenants who can’t afford much else, Klatt said.

An improvement like the bathroom he now has to install will cost between $6,000 and $8,000 – money that he can’t pass on to the tenants in the six-room boarding house because they can’t afford an increase in rent, Klatt said.

“If, at the end of it, all you have are super-duper places, you’re going to have problems because (some) people can’t afford” the rent, he said.

In another case, inspectors cited Roland A. Huntt Jr. for four exterior violations at 1311 N. Clock St. that included a deteriorating roof and soffits. By late October 2007, just one of the violations had been corrected, according to city housing records.

Huntt applied for an extension until March 31, 2008, to make repairs; however, inspectors noted in May 2008 that the violations still existed.

After the city filed a complaint in October 2008, Huntt agreed to correct the violations by this past August. Shortly before the deadline, Hall granted Huntt a 30-day extension to complete the repairs, according to the Sept. 3 report.

The city has since filed a rule to show cause to hold Huntt in contempt since he has yet to make any further repairs, Hall said. A court date has been scheduled for Feb. 8 on the city’s motion.

“Landlords in Champaign are also hit with the same impact of the downturn in the U.S. economy,” Huntt said. “By the city being patient, it has afforded us landlords extra time to remedy the defects on our properties. I really appreciate the patience of the city inspectors and its neighborhood service members to allow us extra time to remedy” the violations.


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