The landlords of a rat-infested home at 619 S. Lincoln Ave. have been hit with a $1,150 fine and potentially face more fines if the problem isn't soon remediated.
Under an agreed order with the city of Springfield, the owners of the property, The Pekay Group of Illinois, a limited liability corporation controlled by mother-daughter duo Marsha Pekay and Gwen Pekay-Levine, has been assessed the fine for two violations of city code.
Public Works will inspect the property again on Feb. 17. If the rat infestation has not been remediated by then, a $100 penalty will be assessed each day until the property is in compliance, per the agreed order. That will be determined at a hearing Feb. 19.
Marc Pekay, Marsha Pekay's husband and attorney, appeared in the city's administrative court Wednesday morning, acknowledging their responsibility for ridding the property of rats even while maintaining that the problem was caused by the previous tenants, not their management of the property.
"We are outraged by what they found in a house that they've taken pride in for over 80 years," Pekay said. "The penalty that we've agreed to today is difficult for them, but we acknowledge and understand."
The home, a duplex with a shared basement, was built in 1900. It has a fair market value of $99,159, according to Sangamon County tax records.
Pekay said that the family "takes the neighborhood seriously" while laying the blame for the property's poor state on tenants that were recently evicted. He said they were only made aware of the rat problem after serving their last tenants eviction notices in mid-November.
He accused the previous tenants of leaving "garbage all over" the inside of the home and leaving the "toilets ruined."
"They did nothing to prevent any of the rodents from coming in," Pekay said. "It was like somebody putting cheese in front of them and asking them to come into the house."
But that's not how it went down, said previous tenant John Raven, who said Pekay's comments were "a nice tale, but it was all wrong."
Raven, who attended the hearing, said he first informed Marsha Pekay of the rat problem just a few weeks after moving in last May. He denied trashing the apartment and said the toilets were in no worse condition when they moved out versus when they moved in.
"She knew of the rats," Raven said. "We told her over and over and over. All they're trying to do is get out of a deal right now."
The condition of the home has drawn the ire of neighbors worried about rats finding their way into their own homes. It has also caught the attention of members of the Springfield City Council, who said they are frustrated by how long the process is taking and their perceived lack of ability to hold the landlords accountable for code violations.
The rat issue at the property was first brought to Public Works' attention on Dec. 23. A city inspector was sent out on Dec. 26. Confirming the rat infestation and deeming it uninhabitable for humans, the inspector gave the propertys owner 14 days treat the site. That deadline came and went without the property being treated.
Pekay assured the hearing officer, retired judge Roger Holmes, that abatement of the property, being done by Decatur-based Catch It Wildlife, was almost compete. He attributed the delay to difficulty finding a contractor to do the work. They initially had a deal with Orkin, but were later told by the company that they would not do what was necessary to bring the property in compliance.
Holmes said they better be in compliance two weeks from now, or else he will "be most unhappy and will take all actions pursuant to this agreed order."
Public Works has treated area sewers in an attempt to prevent the rats from spreading to surrounding homes. Pekay said the house itself was boarded up and that "there's no question that there's no more danger."
This would be welcome news to neighbor Walter Ladd, who said he's been living "10 feet or less from a ticking time bomb" for the past few months.
"It's very stressful," Ladd said. "I don't think there's too many people that could take a $2,000 or $3,000 exterminator bill because you caught rats from a landlord who refused to fix the problem."
Ladd said he's glad the city "held their feet to the fire," adding that he did not buy the landlord's explanation for the cause of the problem.
"(The tenants) didn't tear that house up," Ladd said. "I don't believe it. It's just passing the buck, they're looking for a different scapegoat and they just don't want to take responsibility for it."
Ward 8 Ald. Erin Conley, who attended the hearing, said she's glad the city is taking the matter seriously, but would be following up with proposed changes to city code "so that we don't have a situation like this that's allowed to drag out this long."
Contact Brenden Moore: 788-1526, email@example.com, twitter.com/brendenmoore13.
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