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BLOOMINGTON — An accidental cooking fire was the cause of a fire at an east side apartment building last month that left seven families homeless.

The investigation is closed, Bloomington Fire Department spokesman Stuart Blade said on Wednesday.

The fire was reported around 3:08 p.m. on Feb. 10. The damage was estimated at $650,000. One firefighter was slightly injured.  

Prior to the fire, the city found 226 code violations at the 12-unit, two-story building during an inspection on Jan. 30. The building caught fire 11 days later and displaced 29 residents. The violations included smoke alarm problems, missing doors, windows that wouldn't open, improperly installed doorknobs, damage from water leaks, and cockroaches.

The city’s report indicated various violations were found in all 12 apartments.

The Gettysburg Drive property is one of 13 that Wayne Pelhank owns in Bloomington, according to McLean County property records. He also was cited for 572 violations at five apartment buildings he owns in the 900 blocks of West Front and Grove streets.

Ed Duran of Normal is listed as the property manager for the properties.

The families have since been re-located, some to other Pelhank-owned properties.

The fire and the hundreds of city code violations filed against Pelhank have prompted the Bloomington City Council to review the city's rental inspection program. That discussion has, as of Wednesday, not been scheduled.

Because the apartment building was uninhabitable after the fire, those violations were deemed moot, but Pelhank was ordered to pay $110 in court costs at an administrative court hearing on Feb. 28. The case was continued until Wednesday to find out whether his insurance carrier plans to repair or demolish the destroyed building.

“We don't believe it can be repaired. We think it should be demolished, but it's up to the insurance company to make that determination,” Pelhank's attorney, Eitan Weltman, said Wednesday in court. Weltman said an insurance adjustor and a contractor were meeting Wednesday, but the insurance company's determination will not be available until Thursday. The case was continued until March 14.

Also Wednesday, two other administrative court cases involving Pelhank properties were dismissed because code violations have been fixed, said city Deputy Corporation Counselor Angela Fyans-Jimenez.

After part of a ceiling reportedly fell at one of those properties, 1903 Peach St., the city posted a no-occupancy order on Feb. 28, but it was lifted later that day because repairs were underway.

Fyans-Jimenez said Wednesday the completed ceiling and drainage repairs and replacement of loose windows resolve the Peach Street case. The other case was resolved with Pelhank repairing the furnace at his rental property at 1027 W. Mill St. Pelhank already has paid the court costs of $110 in each of those cases.

Some of the 572 citations at the Grove and Front streets properties have been dismissed after code violations were fixed, added Fyans-Jimenez. But Pelhank still faces fines of $17,500 for nearly 80 code violations that must be fixed before he appears in court again on March 28.

If the problems are corrected, the fines will be dismissed, said Fyans-Jimenez, adding the landlord will then need to fix a final batch of code violations at those five building before that case is resolved.

“I think the city and my client have the same goal in mind and that is not being in court,” Weltman told The Pantagraph after Wednesday's court hearing. “We're working with the city trying to get those violations that are validated taken care.”

Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow


Agriculture Reporter

Agriculture reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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