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Landlord´s legal troubles grow

CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign landlord facing a criminal charge for allegedly renting an unsafe apartment may lose four apartment buildings and two rental houses after defaulting on a nearly $1.8 million mortgage.

 The landlord said that he´s been singled out by the city because of his race and that he wants to reorganize his business or find a buyer. 

 A federal bankruptcy judge has given Herget Bank of Pekin permission to auction properties that Bernard Ramos owns on West Church Street in Champaign and on South Lynn Street in Urbana. 

 The properties are scheduled to be auctioned Sept. 25. 

 The court ruling adds to a list of legal troubles for Ramos, 35. The state´s attorney charged him with criminal housing management in March for allegedly renting a condemned apartment at 709 W. Church St., C., in which a tenant claimed she was sickened by carbon monoxide. In May, the city of Champaign fined Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo Ramos, $15,345 for renting two condemned apartments at 209 W. Green St., C. 

 Champaign housing inspectors have cited Bernard Ramos and his father collectively for 636 violations on nine rental properties in Champaign, according to Sue Salzman, the city´s property maintenance supervisor, in an Oct. 22, 2008, memo to Neighborhood Services Director Kevin Jackson. The citations ranged from peeling paint to malfunctioning furnaces. 

 Bernard Ramos has maintained that the city is targeting him because he is a Hispanic businessman and because, he said, he rents to illegal immigrants. 

 In addition to the five properties up for auction, Bernard Ramos, his father and three sisters collectively own at least 15 other rental properties in Champaign County, according to county property records. 

 “One of the biggest problems is I grew so big so fast, now I want to get smaller,” Bernard Ramos said. 

 Herget Bank lent $1.8 million to Bernard and Eduardo Ramos in 2005 on two houses and an apartment building in the 100 and 200 blocks of South Lynn Street in Urbana and three apartment buildings in the 700 block of West Church Street in Champaign, according to court records. The bank foreclosed on the five-year mortgage in August 2008 after the pair fell more than $81,000 behind in their payments. 

 In January, Champaign County Judge Richard Klaus issued an order allowing the Church and Lynn street properties to be auctioned. Bernard Ramos filed for bankruptcy one day before the scheduled May 8 sheriff´s sale, automatically delaying the auction. In bankruptcy documents, Ramos wrote that the properties were his primary assets and drew a total of $24,000 a month in rental income under his management. 

 On July 29, federal Bankruptcy Judge Gerald D. Fines dismissed Bernard Ramos´ bankruptcy case because Ramos did not file some required financial documents. Ramos objected to the dismissal, but the judge upheld his ruling on Aug. 11. 

 The dismissal does not affect the auction of the properties, said Herget Bank´s attorney, Lou Miller of Pekin. 

 Bernard Ramos, who is representing himself in the bankruptcy case, said he planned to refile his bankruptcy petition before the scheduled auction of his properties. 

 “I made some mistakes in the past, I don´t want to make them again,” Ramos said. 

 Herget Bank claims Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have not maintained insurance on the properties or paid property taxes. The county clerk´s office said Ramos and his father collectively owed $122,960 in back taxes on the properties for tax years 2005, 2006 and 2007. The bank paid the back taxes on Oct. 31, 2008, the clerk´s office said. 

 “Due to the poor condition” of the properties, the market value “is less than the balance owed on its mortgage and … there is no equity,” the bank stated in documents asking the bankruptcy court for permission to move forward with the sheriff´s sale. 

 In his petition, Bernard Ramos said that since the bank took over the properties, 13 more apartment units have been condemned. He alleged that the bank´s property manager is intentionally “sabotaging” the property so the agent “can buy it from the bank at a lower price.” 

 Miller disagreed with Bernard Ramos´ claim. “His redemption period has run out. If he had money to pay off the note and all the attendant costs incurred by the bank, they would be happy to release it. Like any bank, we don´t want the property back,” Miller said. 

 Bernard Ramos said his financial situation is due to the decline in the economy and the loss in jobs, which affected tenants´ ability to pay the rent. 

 “My goal is to get my buildings back and don´t make the same mistakes as before,” he said. 

 In March, Champaign condemned one of the properties — 709 W. Church St. — after the power was shut off to the building during a fire call. In that case, firefighters found the roof leaking so badly that they were concerned it would spark electrical problems, city inspector Mike Novotny said. 

 Of the 37 apartment units at 711 and 713 W. Church St., C, and 202 S. Lynn St., U, 15 were occupied as of Friday, according to information from the bank´s property manager. The single-family house at 114 S. Lynn St. is also rented, but the property at 112 S. Lynn St. is vacant. 

 Federal Judge Fines on July 24 upheld the Champaign County court order to sell the properties. The bank is required to publish the sale date in a legal ad for three weeks before the auction, Miller said. 

 “It will be a sheriff´s sale,” Miller said. “They will ask for the highest and best bid at that time.” 

 In his bankruptcy petition, Ramos said he and his father planned to pay their debts and “if the court gives us three months, we will have those buildings making more money that (sic) ever before.” 

 According to his bankruptcy filing, Bernard Ramos owes his creditors about $2.2 million and has about $1.3 million in assets. His other creditors include Champaign-based Central Finance Loan Corp.; First Midwest Bank; Colorado Place LLC, a local real estate company; as well as AmerenIP, Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District and Nicor Gas. Colorado Place LLC placed three of the six liens against the Lynn and Church Street properties for about $346,600, according to Ramos´ bankruptcy file. 

 Ramos family members also own several other properties now in foreclosure, according to court records. Bernard Ramos owns four properties — at 512 Park St., 410 E. Church St., 1607 Williamsburg and 211 W. Green St. — under foreclosure. His sister, Evelyn Ramos, may lose an apartment building she owns near Rantoul. One of Eduardo Ramos´ properties, 2708 E. Coddington Circle, U, was auctioned off on Saturday after a yearlong foreclosure case. There were no bidders at the auction and the bank, Illinois Washington Mutual, bought it back for about $211,000. 

 “The game plan is to find a buyer or an investor,” Bernard Ramos said, or “the idea is to sell everything and leave.” 

By Pam G. Dempsey and Shelley Smithson

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.