Residents in a Belleville apartment complex are up in arms, forced to evacuate their homes due to the buildings’ safety violations.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert says the troubles with the Rob Nora apartment complex have gone on for over a decade, but more serious safety hazards were revealed in a safety inspection this past fall. Just a few weeks ago, the ceiling in one of the units collapsed on a woman in bed, sending her to the hospital.
City officials gave property owner Dale Helle several deadlines and ultimately a court order to fix the problems, but the complex is still not up to code. Now, all residents are being forced to move out.
Three months ago, Jerry and Donna Bell were excited to move into their new home at the Rob Nora apartment complex. They paid their application fee, first month’s rent and a deposit.
“The manager here told it was ok to move in. They gave us a lease. We moved in,” Donna Bell said.
When they went to get their occupancy permit at city hall, they were blindsided.
“We were told at that time there was something that needed to be fixed, and we were denied. The police came later on and gave us a citation. The owner Dale said don’t worry about it, I’ll handle it. I’ll see if I can get you guys an occupancy permit,” she said.
Instead, they got a court date.
"I just feel bad they didn’t tell us, and didn’t warn us, you move in some place and think everything’s up to code,” Jerry Bell said
Now the Bells and their neighbors are scrambling to find new place to live. Last month, Belleville’s housing department sent a letter to all Rob Nora apartment residents, stating that their occupancy permits will be revoked on July 27, because “the property owner has willfully allowed the property to become injurious to the health and dangerous to the lives of the occupants.”
“The City of Belleville is very frustrated in dealing with him, and we’re very disappointed,” said the Belleville mayor, who also notes that the apartment complex is filled with fire and electrical hazards, not to mention cracked walls, leaking ceilings, bad air conditioning units and reports of cockroaches and mice.
“Before they have a massive fire or major collapse, people have got to get out of there, for their own safety,” Eckert said.
About half the residents in these 32 units have already moved out. For the rest, it isn’t so easy. Damion Townes’ father has cancer.
“He’s not young anymore," he said. "He just had surgery, and for him not to have anywhere to go, and them not giving him back his money, that is just sad, they should be able to do a little better than that.”
Even though residents need to leave, the mayor says there is some flexibility on timing, as long as they’re taking active steps to find a new home.
If the repairs aren’t made soon, the building could be condemned. The property owner tells NewsChannel 5 that he is working on the repairs, but it’s a lengthy, costly and laborious process to bring these 60-year-old buildings up to code. Helle owns another building in Belleville, which the mayor says suffers from similar issues.