FOX 29 Investigates: State House Candidate's Rental - FOX 35 News Orlando

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FOX 29 Investigates: State House Candidate's Rental

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PHILADELPHIA -

A candidate for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is pressed to explain why he was renting out his Philadelphia apartment building with no city-required license.

And that's not the only question FOX 29 Investigates is asking Benjamin Ramos, who has held high-profile jobs, Jeff Cole reports.

Ryan Zurlo was only too happy to show us the condition of the bathroom in the apartment of his mother, Sharon Balek.

"Another issue we have is my lovely bathroom," Zurlo said.

What looks like mold blackens the ceiling around two holes, which expose pipes from the upstairs apartment. Zurlo says a leak caused the plaster to fall about a year ago.

"You actually can see water coming down right now, actually," he said.

And it's not the only problem. The kitchen counter moves!

"You can actually lift the whole sink up," Balek said.

"Yeah, that's another problem," Zurlo replied.

And then there's the bedroom window. Zurlo pulls it out of its frame and claims it has fallen out on his sister in the past.

"Now, the window is in there, and there are rags shoved in there. What's going on?" Cole asked.

"So the cold don't come in," Balek answered.

"Tell me about that?" Cole invited.

"We pushed it in there so the cold don't come in there," Balek said.

"Because it's that loose?" Cole asked.

"Yes," Balek said.

Balek's lease shows she moved into her North Hope Street apartment on Sept. 1, 2012 along with her young daughter. She pays $475 a month in rent.

When we were there, a cockroach could be seen climbing the wall, and the apartment had the strong smell of cat urine.

Balek says she has pressured the landlord to make repairs, but little has been done.

"When you came in here, I felt like a piece of trash. That's not right for me to live like that," Balek said.

So, who's her landlord?

It's Benjamin Ramos, a former acting secretary of the commonwealth in Pennsylvania, a one-time deputy mayor in Philly, and a former state representative.

And, according to campaign signs in the windows of his home and a website, Ben Ramos wants to return to Harrisburg as a state rep.

"Do you have a rental license for this property?" Cole asked.

"I've had a rental license," Ramos answered.

"But you don't have one now?" Cole followed-up.

"Well, there's some tax issues that I'm having resolved because they will not give you one, the renewal, actually," Ramos said.

According to the city Department of Licenses and Inspections, Ramos hasn't had a city-required housing inspection or rental license for over five years. L&I's website reveals it expired at the end of February 2008.

The agency's spokesperson says an inspector visited the property twice last year due to a complaint but couldn't get into the apartments and could not make contact with Ramos, who lives around the corner.

Ramos rents to three tenants and, remember, Balek's lease shows she moved in well after the rental license had expired.

Ramos does have tax problems. Court records show the IRS filed a lien on Ramos for nearly $8,300 in January of 2011. His attorney says he's on a payment plan, but interest and penalties have ballooned the debt to well over $12,000.

Pennsylvania's Department of Revenue has an $1,100 lien on Ramos. His lawyer says he has paid it down to $869.

And his attorney says he owes the city of Philadelphia over $5,000 in taxes, interest and penalties. He's working with the city to reduce the amount owed.

As for the apartment, we pressed him on the problems.

"There's a window here that falls right out. Come on. Come on," Cole said, inviting Ramos into the bedroom to see.

"I don't need to. Listen..." Ramos replied.

"Well, listen, yes you do," Cole said.

"...I can tell you that there's some..." Ramos said.

"Benjamin, come on," Cole tried again.

"...There's some, what I call some cosmetic – there are issues but I..." Ramos continued.

"It's not cosmetic. The window is about to fall out," Cole said.

"...I have tried to get a contractor. They know it. I've been talk to them about giving access to a contractor here. I've had difficulty," Ramos said.

"OK, but Benjamin, you don't even have a rental license for this property," Cole said.

"No, but you want to -- well, I know," Ramos said.

"Come on, look at the bathroom," Cole said.

"There was a leak upstairs," Ramos said. "Yes, there was a leak upstairs. It was cured. I told them actually in this week I am trying to get a contractor in here to fix this."

Ramos and his lawyer say Balek has been a problem tenant. They claim she has been continually late on her rent and has denied Ramos access to the apartment for repairs and has dumped trash outside.

They also say she has pets in violation of her lease.

Balek's son claims he waits for Ramos to come and do repairs, but he never shows.

Balek admits to having money problems causing her to be late on rent, but is withholding February's rent until the repairs are made.

"I'm taking it as far as I have to. If everybody has to get evicted from this building, I will do it," Balek said.

Cole asked Ramos, "Is this an adequate living condition for somebody living with you?"

"No, this is unacceptable," Ramos answered.

And there's another problem which caught our eye.

The fire alarm system in the hallway – used to alert tenants to fires in common areas – looked to be dead. The indicator lights were dark in the main box, and the pull switch at the base of the stairs looks busted.

We questioned the candidate for state representative about it.

"You have to have a fire notification system in the hallway of this building. It doesn't work," Cole asked.

"Well, there was a fire in here before, some time ago, and they actually disconnected it," Ramos said.

"You can't have anybody here without that thing working. That's dangerous. You know that," Cole said.

"Well, let me tell you. I have addressed some of the issues. I have no problem continuing to address any issues here in the apartment," Ramos said.

According to the city, on Monday – the very next business day after we questioned Ramos – the rental license for his apartment building was renewed. But, according L&I, not before more than $1,000 was paid to the city in a delinquent license fee and the renewal cost.

Ramos says he's done repairs on the windows and the front of the building and plans to do more.

And one other note: Ramos' attorney says while the indicator lights appear dark on that fire alarm, Ramos now believes it is operating. He was seen late Wednesday afternoon working on it.

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