Urbana increases fines for code violations

The apartment complex at 1302 E. Silver St. stands on the corner of Fletcher and Silver streets. Florescent orange, mesh fencing surrounds the property. The former balcony is no longer attached to the building, as it was recently torn down by workers.  A bright pink notice pinned up on one of the south-facing window reads “CONDEMNED” in bold font.

On Feb. 28, the building, owned by Platinum Group Properties, was condemned due to structural integrity concerns stemming from the solid concrete balcony around the building. Residents were given a 24-hour notice to evacuate the building, many of whom took up residence in buildings south of 1302 E. Silver St. Eight months later, some of these residents are still living in housing that violates Urbana city code, said Esther Patt, director of the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union.

“You go into the apartments and (there are roaches) crawling,” said a resident of 2018 S. Fletcher St, which is also owned by Platinum Group Properties, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “I have like one or two roaches a month, but (other residents) have like 15 or 20 roaches.” 

Paul Zerrouki, property manager for Platinum Group Properties, could not be reached for comment. 

Bug infestations are a Class B livability violation under Urbana law. With the new amendment passed Oct. 7, landlords face a minimum $450 fine for not addressing the violation within the 3-5 days allotted. If the fine is not paid within 7 days, the fine will increase to $600. 

If a landlord misses the second deadline to fix the violation, the minimum fine will be $750 and up to an additional $750 per day until the violation is corrected, regardless of whether or not the first violation fine was paid. 

Under the new law, landlords will have up to 30 days to fix routine maintenance issues or face a $300 fine. Violations that are an imminent safety threat to occupants must be addressed in three days and carry a minimum penalty of $600 if uncorrected, or even possible building condemnation.

Under the previous ordinance, the first fine for a violation would have been $100.

Urbana’s new fines probably aren’t large enough to force all landlords to fix issues, said Tanisha King, director of community life and tenant services at the University. But hopefully, she said, they will be a deterrent to many landlords.

The reformed legislation aims to actively encourage landlords to address code violations in a timely manner. 

“It is the city’s hope that this fine structure will engender more timely compliance by the landlords,” said John Schneider, Urbana’s building safety manager.

Formerly, the law gave city code officials the option to fine landlords who did not meet deadlines for fixing code violations, though it was often not enforced, Patt said. Under the new law, city code officials are required to issue tickets when deadlines are not met.

“Up until now, in almost every case, there has been no consequence for a landlord who does not correct violations after the violations are cited, until the situation blows up into crisis proportions,” Patt said.

But she said the problem of enforcing building code laws is not unique to Urbana-Champaign. 

“Nationwide, code officials focus on buildings, not people. … You have to remember that the whole time these violations are not being fixed, there’s someone living there,” Patt said.

She said there are landlords in the area who will fix problems immediately, and this law won’t affect them as long as they make repairs on deadline.

Marianne Hartman-Tichenor, housing director for JSM Properties, said they have no building code violations and weren’t concerned about the new ordinance because they focus primarily on student housing. 

“You have to keep student housing up-to-date, it’s a competitive market,” she said.

Eli can be reached at [email protected]