Ypsilanti Township will be taking one if its resident to court over the illegal use of township property along Ford Boulevard just south of Clark Road, owing to...read more
Residents living in the Liberty Square complex of townhouses will see a sticker appear on their homes Tuesday, when the Ypsilanti Township Building Department places notices on each and every unit, announcing they are condemned and giving residents 30 days to vacate.
Building Department Director Ron Fulton told the township's board of trustees Thursday that the complex, located just northwest of the intersection of Rawsonville Road and Grove Street, is a blight on the community and recommended the township take legal action against property owners.
“The property has gone down so much in value and maintains so much of the township's time for police, fire, the ordinance department and the building department personnel, it has become a draw on our accounts in order to deal with the blight issues out there,” Fulton said. “We can't keep sitting on this complex and leave it as a blighted structure in the community.”
In Fulton's office, there are three binders filled with multiple reams of documents, containing details and photographs of code violations from throughout the aging and dilapidated complex of townhouses. These problems, Fulton said, can no longer be solved by notifying individual homeowners of the violations.
“The issue is that the units are connected,” he said. “Even any good units are being affected by the neighboring units. Virtually all of the units have been cited for exterior maintenance problems,” he said. “Every single building has at least one, typically more, homes that have already been gutted on the inside.”
A notice of multiple incidences of violation of the township's property maintenance code was sent to the Grove Park Homes Improvement Association and its representative, Joseph Koenig, April 23. This notice, Fulton said, set a deadline of May 29 for the organization to bring the properties into compliance. If this deadline is not met, the township plans to revoke the certificates of occupancy for all units in the complex Tuesday and initiate property abatement proceedings.
Code violations, according to Fulton, include issues of garbage and unsanitary conditions outside units, deteriorated roofs and eaves, a need for exterior painting, deteriorating structural members and walls, windows and doors in disrepair, electrical hazards, and many other violations.
The initiation of legal action against property owners, approved by all trustees present at a special township board of trustees meeting called on Thursday afternoon, becomes complicated because 63 units, previously foreclosed upon, are owned by the Washtenaw County Treasurer, 28 are owned by the Grove Park Home Improvement Association, 17 are owned by Grove Park Homes LLC and the remaining 43 are owned by private individuals. Trustee Mike King was absent from the special meeting and did not vote; the motion to authorize legal action was approved with a vote of 6-0.
The township is not telling the whole story, according to Koenig, the property manager for Grove Park Homes Improvement Association, which he said has taken on the task of systematically trying to improve the Liberty Square neighborhood.
“The community, as it stands now, is the best it has ever been in the last 25 years,” he said, “and that is directly resulting from the work of the association board.”
Koenig said that if the township had taken action against code violations in the past, things would never have gotten as bad as they did in the complex.
He said he responded to the notice of violation last week, asking township officials to help the association by providing an itemized list of what needs to be fixed, which he has not received. This itemized list is important, Koenig said, because the association is responsible for certain exterior elements while the individual property owners are responsible for windows, doors, interior and yard maintenance. To create a plan of action to fix the violations, he said the association would first need a complete list of problems that could be divided between the homeowners and the association itself.
Most of the problems over the years, Koenig said, have been caused by irresponsible homeowners in the complex, a problem he hopes the association solved by spending about $150,000 in legal fees to force about 28 of these problem residents out of the community. The association now owns those 28 foreclosed, vacant properties.
“We haven't sat on our hands and done nothing,” he said. “The township gives no credit for what we have been able to accomplish.”
These accomplishments, he said, include new roofs on 75 of the 151 units and the removal of problem residents.
Koenig said he realizes there are still problems in the complex that need to be remedied, but does not think condemning all 151 residences is appropriate or justified. In fact, he has records of 12 units that have been granted certificates of compliance in 2009 and 2010, which are normally good for 30 months.
Fulton said these certificates, given out through the rental program, are not as comprehensive as a complete inspection, and his department will revoke all existing certificates of occupancy if the code violations are not resolved by Tuesday.
Given more time, Koenig said, he is confident that the association could make all necessary repairs to bring the complex into compliance with township codes.
The association, he said, is already initiating legal action against the Washtenaw County Treasurer's office, the legal owner of 63 of the foreclosed units slated for auction in July and November, because he claims they have not paid association membership fees required of every homeowner in the community.
“The county has refused to pay any of the maintenance fees,” Koenig said. “They already owe us in excess of $30,000. They will owe $60-70 thousand by July, which would replace 50 percent of the roofs in the complex.”
If the township requires residents that still live in Liberty Square to leave, he said, there will no longer be membership fees coming into the association and they will not be able to make the repairs that need to be made.
“That is cutting our legs out from under us,” Koenig said. “We want to cooperate, we want to do whatever the township recommends to go forward.”
Township Attorney Doug Winters advised the board to move forward with litigation against any and all property owners to eliminate the blight on properties in Liberty Square.
“The time that has been spent out there is very disproportionate to any other complex of that size,” Winters said. “I wish there was a better solution than what is being offered by the nuisance abatement team, but we've done about everything we possibly can. The township has bent over backwards to try to work with the housing organization. I don't know what else can be done, it is one of those last-resort-type issues.”
He told trustees that if legal action is necessary to abate the properties, suit would likely be filed against a mixture of private owners of townhouses, the Grove Park Homes Improvement Association, and Grove Park Homes LLC.
Bruce Gatward, who owns a rental unit in the complex, also spoke at the meeting, asking trustees and township staff why his newly-rebuilt unit is slated to be condemned next week.
“I rebuilt the whole thing, and it passed inspection,” Gatward said. “My unit is perfect, ready to go. Why couldn't we continue to do business if we are completely in compliance?”
Fulton addressed Gatward's concerns, explaining that, in many cases in the complex, firewalls in the attics have been compromised and mold problems from units in the same building could potentially spread, meaning even a perfectly-maintained unit could be in violation because of problems in neighboring units.
Later, Gatward said the firewalls in his attic are intact and the mold inspector who came to the unit when mold remediation was completed last October told him that there was no risk of mold invading his unit from other addresses in the building.
Fulton said all Liberty Square residents who receive notices that the certificate of occupancy has been revoked for their residence officially have 30 days to relocate, but expects that the township will work with people, since moving so quickly may be difficult.
Washtenaw County has offered assistance to residents in the neighborhood seeking a new home, Fulton said.