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Landlords face charges about overflow of raw sewage at apartment complex

 

A Champaign County landlord convicted Wednesday of renting 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 Wednesday in a bench trial of criminal housing management for renting an apartment with numerous health and safety hazards at 709 W. Church St., C.

On Thursday, Bernard Ramos, and his father, Eduardo Ramos, appeared to answer charges that a septic system is leaking sewage at Cherry Orchard Village apartments, located on U.S. 45, just south of the Rantoul city limits.

The father-and-son landlord team must return to court in two weeks with an attorney to enter their plea regarding a three-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.

State health inspectors first found black sludge overflowing from a septic tank at Cherry Orchard Village apartments and flowing 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 in an interview. “The legal process is a last resort.”

Bernard Ramos and Eduardo Ramos declined comment.     

Members of the Champaign County Board toured Cherry Orchard Village last year 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 and was being used to power appliances in a downstairs apartment. 

Residents said their heaters often do not work, ceilings are collapsing and their apartments are infested with roaches and mold. Last September, a reporter observed that handrails along stairways were secured using rope and wire clothes hangers.

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 Champaign County ordinances, unlike city ordinances, do little to protect the health and safety of renters who live in the county.

He has proposed drafting new ordinances that would address public health and safety issues at rental properties, and he 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, the assistant state’s attorney’s, said she could also seek an injunction barring anyone from living at the apartment complex.

Bernard Ramos will be sentenced for the misdemeanor conviction of criminal housing management April 16. He could face up to 364 days in jail, two years of probation and a $2,500 fine.  

By Shelley Smithson/CU-Citizen Access

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.