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Posted on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

Expired certificate of compliance at burned apartment 'not uncommon' for rental properties in Ann Arbor

By Ben Freed

It was “not uncommon” that the certificate of compliance issued by the city of Ann Arbor to the owners of 401 S. Division St. expired Jan. 1, the city's rental housing services projects and programs manager Lisha Turner-Tolbert said. That left the building without an up-to-date certificate when it caught fire Jan. 25.

It also was not uncommon that the building did not have an inspection scheduled and was unlikely to be looked at by city officials until late April at the earliest.


No one was injured in the fire at 401 S. Division St. and two dogs in the building were rescued by firefighters.

Courtney Sacco |

Most rental properties have lapses between the expiration of their certificates and the first inspection to get them renewed.

“It’s not written in the code anywhere that [property owners] have to call us or to get their certificate renewed within a certain period,” she said.

“Only about 20 percent of our population calls us to schedule an inspection ahead of their expiration date.”

Turner-Tolbert said that due to scheduling restraints, once a property has a certificate of compliance there is no ordinance specifying renewal requirements and the responsibility is on the city to schedule the inspections.

“My goal is to keep it to six months or less after the permit expires,” she said.

“We’ve been working really hard to get the right personnel and be able to keep it to about five months… so right now people whose permits expired in September are having their inspections performed.”

Ann Arbor currently has four rental housing inspectors according to the city’s website.

The city’s eTrackit website that tracks permitting progress shows the certificate of compliance for 401 S. Division St. expired on June 1, 2012, but Turner-Tolbert said that display is the result of a glitch in the system that effected approximately 20 properties.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

"A subcontractor for property manager Old Town Realty was using a very small version of a "salamander heater" to thaw the pipes, Menard said". Still some absent information. Who was the subcontractor? A teenage part-timer? An experienced licensed contractor? Michigan has been much colder. Has freezing ever happen before at this rental? Was this a propane or an electric salamander heater? Did the subcontractor leave the 'salamander' unattended at any time? What exactly was the material that caught on fire? Ceiling tile? Wall Insulation? Paint? Old newspapers? This is a 1901/1930 construction. Have the walls ever been insulated? Properly? Inspected? Was there any recent modification made to the house? Sometimes such information can lead to better operator/code regulation and safety inspection requirements. Not that anyone cares.


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 2:41 a.m.

Well stated LXIX! Bravo! I hope that will not let this important concern "go away." Sure, the job of journalism is to lure readers with interest news, but a Most Important job (here thing Tom Paine and Ben Franklin) is to employ the First Amendment in a manner that the public welfare is advanced. In a city with 50% of its citizens in rental house, Fire Safety is probably more important than policing.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:58 p.m.

Interesting. Everyone is assuming an "inspection" would have prevented the fire. Not knowing the cause...


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

I don't disagree. The inspections undoubtedly increase safety. My point is that in this case, the presence of a valid certificate would not have prevented this. It just seems as if the commentators are looking for an easy answer here. But going after the inspectors on this one...well...


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 5:06 p.m.

Inspections do help reduce the fatalities when there is a fire, if all controls are installed and maintained. Makes the job easier for the fire fighters. The nightclub fire in Brazil puts some perspective on things...


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 4:36 p.m.

Thank you for verifying my theory. The inspection would have had to occur in November/December of last year in order to prevent the occupancy certificate from expiring. .Had the property been inspected then, it would not have found this issue, as it was temporary situation due to the single digit weather. let's not lose focus on the problem when trying to fix it...

Ben Freed

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

The cause of the fire, as reported by Paula Gardner in her story on Saturday was: A subcontractor for property manager Old Town Realty was using a very small version of a "salamander heater" to thaw the pipes, Menard said. "It ignited a material that started a fire and traveled between the floors and walls," he said.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

Most rental properties have lapses between the expiration of their certificates and the first inspection to get them renewed. "It's not written in the code anywhere that [property owners] have to call us or to get their certificate renewed within a certain period," she said. Then CHANGE THE CODE!


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

I'm highly disturbed by this city employee's admittance that these violations were "not uncommon." Mostly disturbed at the city and its approach to enforcement, that is. If we're going to have an city government, and we're going to have these rules, then they simply need to be enforced. It's not a question of the landlords, who will rise to the minimum level of regulation they are subjected to. It's the city's responsibility to enforce the laws on the books - as much as, or more so than - its business' responsibility to follow them.

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

Cutting inspectors and safety enforcement is wrong. Eventually this is going to result in someone's death due to unsafe rental properties. BTW how is that discussion going on hiring a full time City 'art' manager?


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

NO art manager should be hired until rental safety inspectors are hired and all the road maintenance money is fully restored. Forget an art manager. The city has many more problems to deal with. Hire more police.

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 11:34 a.m.

Is it "not uncommon" for all landlords or just local politician landlords? And no quote from the owner of the building? He was easy to find for a comment when he was in office.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 10:56 a.m.

There was a deliberate effort to scale back the number of building inspectors under Roger Fraser. This was part of the "efficiency" that he introduced with serious cutbacks in the number of city employees. We should be adequately staffed to perform this important function, and rental dwellings should be required to be up to date with inspections and repairs.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

Ten votes up! We have a minister of "Art". How is that cutting back? Good job A2!


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:56 a.m.

Welcome to spring filed USA !! the worst of the best places to live!!! better then Detroit!!


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:44 a.m.

. . . and, make no doubt about is; we are chatting "Slumlords" here . . . Google it!


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:40 a.m.

People. It is pretty S-I-M-P-L-E: 1. The Tenant does not want to die in a fire. 2. The Landlord does not want to lose his property to a fire (and fight with his fire insurance company). BOCA (Bldg Officials of America) publishes Code Requirements to Prevent Fires!!! In Michigan BOCA is the L-A-W!!!)(It was adopted as Statute by the Legislature). 3. The City wants to garner property taxes from income-producing apartments. 4. The University does not want its students to become "Crispy Critters" (you know, bad national publicity, etc). Add it all up and a reasonable conclusion is: City Govt Should Declare War on Slumlords!!!


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

A2 has PLENTY of slumlords.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:33 a.m.

Incredible. This the same city that fought so hard and quick I might add, to ban couches on porches due to the "potential" of fires. But here are stated code violations and it's business as usual. I'm not a city inspector, fire chief, mayor or politician, and I don't play one on TV, but, it seems pretty simple. Building in violation of code. Shut it down. Good thing there were so many fire fighters available to fire the fire and only one fire during this one.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 1:30 a.m.

Regarding the staffing issue, one inspector has been out on extended sick leave for nearly one year, the city hired two new inspectors this past summer, and while they were short-handed some of the building trades inspectors filled in. I have found them all to be highly professional, and firm in enforcing the codes, especially smoke detectors. The city has increased all permit fees in the past couple of years, and is proactive in adding staff so it can improve in its efforts to inspect all registered rental units once each 30 months. Believe me Ordmad, I know from personal experience that these inspectors are quite happy to find a rental unit that passes the first time out. They do not "cook up" issues so they can come back.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 2:42 a.m.

Foote is 98 % correct on these issues. Most people (landlords) that complain about micromanagement,and petty violations are lazy and don't want to spend the money to properly maintain their house. I too, have been in this business for many years and enjoy the "Thank You" that I get from an inspector that happily cannot find any violations to cite.

Tony Livingston

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 1:53 a.m.

Totally disagree here Foote. Been in the rental business for years and this department is inconsistent, unpredictable, and obsessed with searching for the most inconsequential and petty "violations" imagineable. It has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with micromanagement, harrassment, and collecting money well beyond what would be needed if this was handled in the private sector. They are always months behind but most places do not need to be inspected more than once every few years anyway. If I wanted a second opinion on whether something was safe or not, the city inspectors are the last people I would contact.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 12:18 a.m.

Its Smooooooooze town. Scene One. Take Two. "Now Ms. W, donch'all worry 'bout that lil ole renewal on Mr. Big's flophouse downtown. The folks down here at the City Hall like a run things slowww an easy, Like morning traffic ata molases crosswalk. "Why, I am so much abliged for letting the poor helpless realtor community slide by like that, Mr. Mayor. His ol rickity shack done froze up her pipes tight again.That and them new fangled fire codes sure got Mr. Big twisted in a big ol bad money knot.He'll certainly be relieved to hear all about the City 'comodating his investments.". "Well, you are most welcome Ms W. Don't mention it. I mean, really, don't mention it at al to anybodyl. Why my Rental Housing Services Projects and Programs is always looking for innovative ways to improve working relations between City Hall and our most generous economic supporters.". Cut. Thank you. Thats a wrap. Like who really needs those silly code inspections anyway?


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 12:06 a.m.

If your certificate of compliance is to expire and you have your inspection, you could remedy all the items on their list within a day and still have to wait 3 months for the re-inspection. You can't blame all landlords here. Unfortuantely there are a lot of landlords that only think about the rent money they are collecting, and not about the safety and comfort of their tenants. The other problem they have is that not all the inspectors are consistent. Definately need more than 5 inspectors when not only do they need to inspect, they need to return to re-inspect to insure that all the items they cited are remedied.


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 11:26 p.m.

Apartment Managers use the Calendar Every Day. Right? Manager to Tenant: "Your rent was due last week, etc." Q for a lawyer. If I am 2 months behind on my rent and the landlord sues me and his C.O. expired 3 months ago, would I win the lawsuit by proving to the District Court Judge that the C.O. expired? I think the answer is "Yes." Get the Univ Mich students to Tweeting this and the City will no longer have an 80% failure rate on stale C.O.s. The problem will be fixed quicker than City Council can draft an Ordinance. And the City will get a lot of renewal fees that can be used to pay overtime to City Inspectors. The Press could help by Publishing the Names and Addresses of non-compliant landlords. The Problem can be solved without the need for "politics." Fires kill people and pets. Inspections are a powerful preventor of fires. Duhhh . . . .

David Cahill

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

Ms. Turner-Tolbert should check out the following provisions of the City Code: Sec. 8:516(4): "No person shall lease or otherwise make a dwelling or rooming unit available for occupancy if a certificate of compliance is not in effect for the unit. Violators of this subsection who the city has notified at least 10 days prior to prosecution shall be punished by a fine of not less than 200.00." Then, there is Sec. 8:516(5): "If a dwelling or rooming unit lacks a current certificate, instead of paying rent to the owner, tenants may pay the rent into the escrow account established by section 8:522. The building official shall notify tenants of the lack of a certificate and its effect on rental payments." So - did the building official notify the tenants of 401 S. Division of the lack of a certificate?


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

a2grateful: I always call the police to get my speeding ticket - no points either - don't you? I mean I thought we all had an obligation to at least try and be law abiding citizens, too. In the future our smart cars will help us do all that laborious police book-keeping in case we slip up. Seriously, I get you. In a perfect world everyone is on time and A2 apartments are legal, safe, and fire/flood/freeze-free and smartycars drive at a perfect speed and stop at every G------n City Crosswalk where not one but two females nearly got mushed by Rackham yesterday Mr Mayor & Council buddies passing and enforcing local ordinances.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 11:16 a.m.

LXIX: Do you call the police to give you speeding tickets every time you speed? The city chooses not to enforce its ordinances. The choice is not the fault of property owners and citizens.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 2 a.m.

"Only about 20 percent of our population calls us to schedule an inspection ahead of their expiration date." WoW !!! 25,000 rental units in Ann Arbor X 80% delinquent X $200 fine each = $4 MILLION owed to the City. (minus the 5% whistleblower reward to David Cahill of course)


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 10:30 p.m.

The problem with the City of Ann Arbor's rental housing certificate of compliance program is very simple, and much like many other essential city services: The City of Ann Arbor no longer participates in its prompt administration, because it has been deemed non essential. The city no longer staffs administration of this endeavor in a prompt, effective manner, and has not for years! Instead, they have a fraudulent website to paint a rosy picture. It is so folly trolley, folly fountain!


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 11:13 a.m.

No, Ryan, I am offering to continue to pay high taxes for proper staff levels, and standard-level services.

Ryan Bowles

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 4:18 a.m.

Are you offering to pay higher taxes for more staff and better services?


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 10:05 p.m.

So I am confused, was the certificate of compliance valid or not?


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 9:29 p.m.

Hopefully these former single family houses will revert back with the massive amount of luxury student rentals being built.

Tom Whitaker

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 1:17 a.m.

Agreed. And it might even be possible to provide incentives for owner-occupants to buy them and fix them up if we weren't giving out all those tax abatements, streetscape improvements, and parking structures to the high-rise developers. Wouldn't it be nice (and "sustainable") if U of M provided such housing incentives to their staff and faculty instead of tearing the houses down to build parking structures for commuters?


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 9:16 p.m.

I am so glad that my landlord is always up to date on inspections and everything else! He cares about our safety. He's a great guy. Good landlords make good tenants.!


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 9:13 p.m.

The system works fine: no one has pointed to any COO issue that caused any one of these fires (a tenant taking down a fire alarm is not a COO issue it's a tenant issue and there's no way to police tenants 24/7 and they don't want you in their places to begin with). If you want to find the problem here, think about how the City can pass apartments for years then find issue with the exact same condition, often on work that the City permitted and inspected years before. Most wise landlords leave or create an obvious issue because if there isn't one the inspector cooks one up so s/he can come back out again and the City gets to bill the landlord again who, by the way, pays for these things at well over the rate of $100 an hour. Some landlords can afford this, but the small, local folks operate on razor thin margins -- their real "profit" so to speak is using the rent to pay the mortgage and crazy property taxes.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

Ordman, its simple the landlord knows when the next time for inspection is coming, you do a preinspection yourself, AND when the inspector is on site, you have another person immediately addressing any issues that are found out of compliance. This will negate a lot of need for reinspections, its the cost of doing business.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 2:16 a.m.

It's called entropy. The best anyone can do about it is to energetically invest in a routine unit upkeep. If it weren't for overpopulation, those crazy taxes should also experience entropy. Wonder why taxpayers haven't demanded a fair market assessment of property yet ?

Tony Livingston

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 1:39 a.m.

I could have written your comment myself, ordmad. This whole Ann Arbor inspection process is an expensive nightmare for landlords. I am completely convinced that the city makes money from it. A typical inspection for me takes 15 to 20 minutes and a reinspection takes 5 minutes. Yet these inspectors are given an entire hour per inspection. That equals a lot of coffee breaks all day long. One person's inspection results mean nothing 2 years later when someone new comes along and finds completely different results.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 12:47 a.m.

It looks to me like initial inspections cost more than a re-inspection. So, it would seem overlooking items to pass them without a need for re-inspection would bring in more money. $100 per house versus only $75 a house for re-inspect is a loss of 25% of revenue to do a re-inspection. That would let them keep caught up and not have COO lapse, if we want them to ignore safety.


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 9:09 p.m.

Four rental housing inspectors for a city with as much rental property as A2? Woefully inadequate.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3 a.m.

But will they get a gas card for the inspections? That is the real question! lol :)

Paul Taylor

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 1:46 a.m.

B-b-b-but... Big government!

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 10:02 p.m.

It's actually up to five inspectors now. I confirmed that with the city's head building official a couple weeks ago. He also told me those five inspectors are responsible for inspecting 54,000 rental units in Ann Arbor on about a three-year cycle.


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 9:01 p.m.

What I want to know is WHY they treat the huge complex's some would say, commercial apartment complex's differently. Think they don't ask the head of maintenance of any apartment complex within a larger complex, they do, and they are not very friendly about it either.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

Well then Ben Freed it should free up some time to bring those out of compliance into compliance or get the residents out of units not up to par!

Ben Freed

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

Rural, Lisha Turner-Tolbert told me that large complexes are actually the properties that are most likely to have their certificate of compliance renewed on time and that's often because of the initiative of the building managers and owners. Ben


Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

Looks like the code needs revision. What good is it?