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Problems persist at Rantoul-area complex

By Dave Hinton/ Rantoul Press
Inspectors for the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal were scheduled to examine a dilapidated apartment complex south of Rantoul Tuesday.

But there was one problem: The caretakers who were scheduled to open the Cherry Orchard apartment units for inspection apparently left the scene just minutes before the scheduled inspection.

Julie Pryde, director of the Champaign County Public Health District, said a county sheriff’s deputy stationed near the entrance saw who was believed to be Bernard and Eduardo Ramos leave about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled inspection.
It marked the third time the Ramoses have not made the facility available despite scheduled appointments, Pryde said. On the first two occasions, the Ramoses called to reschedule the inspections, according to the health director.

And it was the latest in a pattern that exhibits a lack of cooperation with county and state officials over the condition of the apartments.

“The fire marshal’s inspectors are very irritated and will recommend a warrant to force (the Ramoses) to show up for the next appointment,” Pryde said in an e-mail to State Rep. Chad Hays.

Pryde said she had contacted Hays, who arranged to have the fire marshal’s office inspect the property. Inspections were, in fact, made to the complex, which is located about 2 miles south of Rantoul — albeit only to the exterior of the buildings.
In addition to three fire marshal’s inspectors, public health officials and two county Department of Planning and Zoning officials, including Director John Hall, were present for about two hours examining the property.

During the inspection of one building, those present smelled a strong odor of natural gas.  The Thomasboro Fire Department was called. A door to the apartment had to be forced open, Pryde said.
Thomasboro Fire Chief Paul Cundiff said a furnace gas valve was found to  be malfunctioning. He said the department vented the apartment and called Ameren IP gas company.

Cundiff said the owners were contacted to have a service company fix the problem. He said no one was living in the apartment building.

Cundiff called it “a pretty significant hazard. If gas levels get high enough and it finds an ignition source it can be a catastrophic event.”

Public health officials had hoped all apartment buildings would be vacant.

The department and other agencies provided time and resources to find previous tenants new homes. That action came in the wake of stories of deplorable conditions at Cherry Orchard, including water and heat being shut off in the middle of winter, and unsanitary conditions.
But it appears the Ramoses are continuing to rent the apartments to unsuspecting persons. Pryde said a “for rent” sign was seen on the property.

Pryde said several people — believed to be residents — were seen outside the apartment complex, but when they were approached, they would scatter.

“Nobody responded when we knocked on doors, and yet we saw at least eight people wandering around,” Pryde said. “It appears there was actually someone moving in.” A moving van was parked at the site. Pryde said the parking lot had numerous cars parked in it.

Hall said violations discovered in the exterior search primarily included unsafe hand rails and broken windows.
“I believe (broken handrails) is something we can get corrected,” Hall said. “The concerns about Cherry Orchard go beyond handrails.
“There were (also) some windows that were letting a lot of water into the building because their surrounding framework was completely rotten. That goes down and affects the floor joist.”

Bernard and Eduardo Ramos are scheduled to stand trial Feb. 28 for failure to comply with an agreement with the health department in December to vacate five of the eight buildings at Cherry Orchard. The agreement is part of a three-year-old case the health department has brought against the two for failing to connect the property’s sewer and septic system legally.

This isn’t Bernard Ramos’ first brush with officials over the condition of properties that he owns or manages. Ramos was sentenced to 60 days in jail and  ordered to pay a $1,000 fine in June for criminal housing management for renting a Champaign apartment with health and safety hazards. A Champaign County jail spokeswoman said Ramos served half of his 60-day sentence. He was released July 1.

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