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Posted on Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor apartment building that caught fire had history of code violations

By Ryan J. Stanton


The scene of a fire at 1310 Packard St. in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Jan. 13. The six-unit apartment building had been cited for code violations four months earlier.

Daniel Brenner I

A six-unit apartment building that caught fire last Sunday was cited four months earlier by the city of Ann Arbor for code violations, including missing smoke detectors, city records show.

Sumedh Bahl, the city's community services administrator, said the city's rental housing inspectors normally try to go back within 60 to 90 days to make sure a landlord has corrected any violations, but for some reason they never went back after the Sept. 13 inspection.

"I don't see anything in the file which indicates why we haven't gone back there after September," Bahl said, unable to say whether the code violations were addressed.

The apartment building at 1310 Packard is listed in city records as having two studios, three one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit. Its maximum occupancy is 13 people.

Police and firefighters rescued four people from the burning building last Sunday night. Ann Arbor police were first to the scene shortly after the fire was reported about 9:05 p.m.

Officers ran into the burning building and rescued a resident in a second-floor apartment. Firefighters who arrived a short time later rescued three more people from the third floor.


Crews began cleanup efforts last Monday at the apartment building after Sunday night's fire.

Daniel Brenner |

Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard said residents put towels over their heads to block smoke, but three residents and three police officers still went to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

Hubbard said the cause of the fire remains undetermined, and the case is still under investigation. He said he wasn't aware of the code violations before speaking with

City records show the property has been cited for numerous code violations in recent years, including everything from missing smoke detectors to deteriorated and leaking pipes, torn or missing window screens, noncompliant electrical outlets and potholes in the driveway.

Records show the city posted an "uninhabitable building" notice on the property on March 21, 2011, in an attempt to get the landlord to address some of the outstanding issues. The notice alerted the landlord that the building's certificate of occupancy was being suspended.

"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," the notice read, citing Chapter 105 of the Ann Arbor Housing Code. Violations are punishable by a fine not less than $200.


Sumedh Bahl

The owner is listed as the High-Way Company International of Ann Arbor, which could not be reached for comment for this story.

Property Manager Jill Mitchell spoke briefly with on Thursday but declined to answer questions until she had an attorney present. She did not return phone calls after that.

Bahl said he's reviewed the files and it seems the landlord responded to the March 2011 notice and brought the building into compliance with city code by September 2011. But when the building was next inspected on Sept. 13, 2012, a city inspector identified more violations.

The inspector was able to gain access to four of the six apartments on Sept. 13, and three of them needed smoke detectors added, according to the violation notice. The inspector wrote "add smoke detector in bedroom" for two of the units and "replace missing smoke detector" for another unit.

The inspector also cited concerns about a bad light switch and electrical outlets that needed ground-fault circuit interrupter protection to help prevent electrical shocks.

Ralph Welton, Ann Arbor's head building official, said he didn't think any of the violations cited in September had to do with the start of the fire.

Welton said there were no major safety issues that surfaced during that inspection, so he felt comfortable with the four-month timeframe that passed without a re-inspection.

The city has five rental housing inspectors responsible for inspecting tens of thousands of rental units in Ann Arbor on about a three-year cycle. Even with that level of workload, Welton said, it's not often they miss the window of 60 to 90 days for a re-inspection.

"As a rule, we're on time with that," he said.

'It's invaluable to have smoke detectors'

Newer building codes now require smoke detectors in bedrooms, Welton said, and the city is working to bring rental houses in Ann Arbor into compliance with that.

Just because the city asked for smoke detectors to be installed in bedrooms of some of the units at 1310 Packard, he said, doesn't mean they didn't already have smoke detectors elsewhere.

Welton said he visited the site after the fire and couldn't tell if there was a smoke detector in the unit that caught fire because most of the ceiling was torn out, but he did see some in other units.

Welton said it's "always an uphill battle" for his department to keep smoke detectors in rental housing units, and to keep them active.

"As quickly as they're installed, there's a tendency to pull them out," he said, adding tenants get annoyed with them when the alarm sounds while they're cooking. "It's invaluable to have smoke detectors that are actually functioning properly in these houses."

Bahl said the way the city's rental housing inspection program works, properties are inspected about once every 30 months. He characterized the inspections done at 1310 Packard and the violations that surfaced as business as usual, and he said nothing jumped out as alarming.

"There could be cases where the building is dangerous and we would evacuate the people, but this was not a dangerous building at that point," he said.


Pedestrians watch the scene of a fire at 1310 Packard on Sunday, Jan. 13.

Daniel Brenner I

Even when the building was technically deemed uninhabitable, Bahl said, the situation wasn't dangerous enough to initiate evacuation proceedings.

"We do so many inspections ever year and you will find these kinds of things," he said. "This is part of a normal process of rental housing inspections."

In any event, Bahl said, the landlord will have to make some improvements to the now-vacant building since it is uninhabitable after the fire.

Bahl and Welton both agreed staffing issues are not to blame for city inspectors missing the window of 60 to 90 days for reinspecting the property.

"We have enough staff," Bahl said, adding the city has made special effort in the last two and a half years to make sure every property gets its first inspection on a 30-month cycle.

Asked how widespread issues with housing code violations are among rental properties in Ann Arbor, Bahl called it a "mixed bag."

"There are some that are very well maintained," he said. "There are some that get their certificate of compliance on the very first inspection, and some that are not in good shape."

Fire Marshal Reka Farrackand said there were smoke detectors in the building last Sunday, but she couldn't say which apartments had them and which might not have had them. has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the incident reports.

Farrackand said she couldn't comment on the code violations because the fire department, which has six inspectors who handle commercial properties, doesn't handle rental housing inspections.

"I think the housing department is doing a good job on their inspections on the rentals," Farrackand said. "We're continuing to do the fire and safety inspections for commercial."

Mayor John Hieftje said he hadn't heard about the code violations before speaking with He said that's not typically information that comes across his desk. But generally speaking, he said, he thinks the city is doing a good job with inspections.


John Hieftje

"If you look back at what we've done in the last couple of years, particularly in the last budget, we've really picked up prevention, so there's more inspections going on," he said. "And it's obviously very important that everybody should have smoke detectors."

Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, said the problems that were cited with the building, including lack of smoke detectors, are definitely a concern.

"It's certainly the responsibility of the building owner and the property owner," he said. "I don't fault the building department necessarily. I don't know anything in that regard, so I'm not going to point fingers or anything like that. I'm certain the administration is looking into it to see if there's anything we missed."

If there's a need to make some changes or ramp up enforcement, Kunselman said, he's sure that'll happen.

"It's certainly tragic," he said of the fire. "And thank God nobody was seriously hurt, but it certainly again puts a focus on our issues of firefighting."

Kunselman said his main question was whether the city had adequate firefighting capability to handle the fire. Hubbard said that wasn't a problem.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said she's unsure whether what happened at 1310 Packard will prompt a review of the rental housing inspection program. She said she's heard of cases in which college students are living in rental housing that's not in compliance with city code.

"I've had students complain about the conditions in their buildings and then discover that particular building didn't have a certificate of occupancy," she said.

"I don't think this is an isolated incident," she added. "I've talked to the occasional landlord here and there who feels the city's rules and regulations about what needs to happen on the interior and exterior of their rental property are onerous and frivolous and not a benefit to the community. I've talked to the occasional landlord who is very resentful of these things."

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Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


steven s

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 5:50 a.m.

I lived in that 3rd floor apt in 1989 and it was so full of code violations it would make your head spin. If Simsar still owns this building it would not surprise me if it was he who avoided the updates. Funny story, the night I moved out of there my roommate and I stopped at meijer to pick up a few things before we started our drive to move to California and there near the cigarette carousal was that same landlord STEALING a pack of red pall malls. I was thinking to myself "what happened to all the money that we gave him for rent times 4 other units?" Because he certainly never put it back into the property. I say a total of 5 units because that was all the building had. In the report it claims there was 6 but below the two that burned was a boiler room which was way to small to convert into another apt, To close..I was saddened to see it's demise because on January 18th 1989 (almost 24 years to the day) a girlfriend had stopped by that night and I missed hearing her knocking and probably would have stayed the night. She was killed in a car accident the next morning and It has haunted me for years that if I had knew she was at the door she would have taken a different route to school that next morning and would still be alive today. The apt was just a black cloud all around and seeing it in the news just brought up alot of sad feelings that I've tried desperately to leave behind.

Blue Eyes

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

The much maligned Ypsi Twp considers smoke detectors to be a life safety issue and when cited, immediately schedules a reinspection for 7-14 days. All other reinspections are scheduled for 28 days - with only 1 rental inspector, not 5. Get with it Ann Arbor! Please explain Ralph Welton's qualifications for determining what was and was not the cause of the fire, last I heard he's not a FIRE inspector, just a boss with no answers covering for his staff's shortcomings.

David Cahill

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 9:35 p.m.

Oop! That comment about "cooking detectors" was entered by me, not by Sabra. We use the same computer sometimes.

Sabra C Briere

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 9:25 p.m.

Mr. Welton pointed out the big problem with smoke detectors when he said people get annoyedwith them when the alarm sounds while they are cooking. Are there any smoke detectors on the market which are not "cooking detectors"?


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

I lived for many years in this neighborhood, in 2 rental houses. The first was at 1402 Packard St., very close to this apartment building. My homes were inspected regularly and the property owners were required to take care of any issues immediately. Perhaps I had responsible landlords--both homes were owned by individuals--but I know inspectors came back fairly quickly to make sure their requirements had been met. In one case, it was a matter of adding a hand rail to the front steps, which seemed at the time, and still seems, unnecessary. That particular house was historical and the hand rail really detracted from the outside of the home. After another inspection, the homeowner was required to change the smoke detectors from battery-powered to electronic. So I am baffled every time I hear about the improvements/corrections demanded by housing inspectors being ignored. I think the city is fortunate that no one died or was more seriously injured in this fire. I'd like to know how it is that the homes I lived in were so carefully inspected and the inspectors' requirements had to be quickly met, and then we have situations like this, where the inspectors' requirements are ignored and months go by without a return inspection.

laura wolf

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:45 p.m.

how many of you commenting have first hand experience with housing inspections and rental property? i can't think of any inspection i have been at that did not have violations to correct. they are mostly minor and not dangerous to the people living there. my tenants didn't tell me their kitchen faucet was loose and i got cited for that last time. the inspectors are not very consistent, one can cite something that another will not. they can also pass something for years and then suddenly decide to write it up. rules change and as a landlord you don't always know when that happens. the amount of time is fair and reasonable to get most things taken care of. none of the violations listed sound like fire hazards so it seems like two different things are being melded into one story. could your owner occupied house pass an inspection? i doubt it. do you feel safe in your own home? i would guess you do.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:45 p.m.

What do you /me/fire department do/does in case of fire with a disablt person over 200lbs that canot walk ?


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

Citations were issued but no follow up? Sounds like....................negligence.

Joel A. Levitt

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 5:53 p.m.

Perhaps, the city, including the fire department, needs more money for building inspections. Perhaps, the period during which owners must correct violations should be shorter. Perhaps, inspectors are taking bribes. Perhaps, fines should be increased. Perhaps, everything is working well. We don't have enough information to reach reliable conclusions. The city should create a separate WEB site, which by address lists all: inspections, discovered violations, owner responses, legal actions undertaken, and residents and visitors hurt. .


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

Call your City council /ward person male/female .. We have "inspection from HUD/MSDA" and needless to say NO FALLO-UP.........No air fro 2 months last summer ...etc etc we have leaky pips.etcetc

Jim Mulchay

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

Question 1 - Are buildings with violations listed on the city site? If they are, how quickly are they posted? Question 2 - Are all building tenants told at the time of inspection that violations exist? If they are nor present are notices put on their doors or mailboxes? Question 3 - Is it practical to post signage at (or on) buildings that have violations so they are readily visible to neighbors, prospective tenants and such - at the time the violations are recorded. Question 4 - If violations exist, does that allow tenants to withhold rent until the violations are fixed? Make the violation visible, make sure tenants are informed and know the nature of the violation and the allowable time frame for fixing the issue.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

Answers are no,no no.and no. An inspection cycle in A2 is 2 1/2 years. There is something called a life and safety violation that is supposed to be given if the tenant would be endangered (ie missing smoke detectors). That would be issued at the time of the initial inspection. If there are no violations then the city wouldn't even return for roughly 2 years. So if a tenant takes down a smoke detector right after an inspection and the landlord isn't knowledgeable to that fact, then that unit could potentially remain in use without a smoke detector until the next inspection. Maybe there needs to be some accountability to the tenant as well as the landlord.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

Obviously there needs to be code enforcement, but why would you move into a place without smoke detectors, leaking pipes, torn screens, and bad electrical outlets? Use some common sense.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

Next to selling higher education, the renting of apartments is the second biggest business in Ann Arbor. More than half of Ann Arbor residents live in rental properties. The vast majority of landlords are honorable and obey the law. Where is the Rental Property Division of the Ann Arbor Board of Realtors on this issue? Tenants: Check with City Hall. If your building does not have a Certificate of Occupancy (C.O.), you don't have to pay the rent. Now that we've heard from the Mayor, you can be sure the City Attorney will do nothing about the violations.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

Bureaucracy: rental properties are not commercial? And Sabra, to a sleazeball landlord, any money that doesn't stay in his bank account is wasted and an imposition. They do get real hate-y 'bout that... free-enterprise and-all-that.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

Everyone should take a moment right now to check their own smoke alarm can't hurt.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 4:48 p.m.

Lizzy--what could the girls be using the batteries for?????!!!

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

You're right - I just did! I remember in my college house with seven girls people were always removing them.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

As for the smoke detectors, usually the tenants take down the smoke detectors. They find that easier to do rather than replace a battery if needed or call the maintenance to replace it for them. And the smoke detectors in the bedroom is a new ordinance for 2012, so if the landlord doesn't know it's needed or the inspection cycle hasn't come up yet, that wouldn't be unusual. In any case I didn't see that as being the reason the fire started in the first place.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:31 p.m.

Hard wired smoke detectors are only required in new construction. We change the batteries but the student or tenant needs to call if their smoke detector is beeping or creating a problem. They should not be endangering others by their ill thought out actions.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

I would imagine that the smoke detectors that are installed would need to be a permanent 120 volt "hard wired" type. I'm not 100% sure of that however it would make sense as a student is not going to keep track of changing batteries.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

I consider this to be an enforcement issue - not a landlord issue. People will generally try to get away with the minimum level of effort in most situations. That includes landlords, who will rise only to the level that regulators and inspectors make them rise to. As we can see here, the city's inspectors never returned to verify fixes to code violations. "For some reason we don't know," according to the article. We can put law after law on the books, but without enforcement, the only thing they will be good for is throwing the book at violators after the fact.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 2:09 p.m.

Some one messed up with not following through with a "follow-up inspection" for the violations. Please don't just "sugar coat" the issue. If there is enough staff to get the job done, then do the job appropriately. If you screw up, fess up to it and be accountable for your actions. In this case, it might have save several individuals from being injured. To all the landlords out there who do just enough to get by -- shame on you -- keep your apartments and houses in tiptop shape and make sure the renters are safe. To the renters, smoke alarms can be purchased any where and they do save lives.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

"She said she's heard of cases in which college students are living in rental housing that's not in compliance with city code." Did she say that with a straight face?


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

Do they inspect frats and sororities also? And their kitchens that are often served by independent food preparers that bring the food in?


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:42 p.m.

ONLY if you call the Healths Department and Only then IF you get past the phone operater ..they ask ALL "the question" and Know the answers...HA HA HA


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

Yes they are. If they have a commercial kitchen there are additional inspections.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 11:24 a.m.

"Mayor John Hieftje said he hadn't heard about the code violations before speaking with He said that's not typically information that comes across his desk. But generally speaking, he said, he thinks the city is doing a good job with inspections." Stop the presses! Breaking news! Not his fault, he's just the piano player and didn't know what was going on upstairs and is still comfortable with shutting down fire stations and with past cuts of safety staff. "Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said she's unsure whether what happened at 1310 Packard will prompt a review of the rental housing inspection program. She said she's heard of cases in which college students are living in rental housing that's not in compliance with city code. "I've had students complain about the conditions in their buildings and then discover that particular building didn't have a certificate of occupancy," she said." So, public safety won't prompt a review? I guess Council and the City are too busy with other issues once again? And, all this reporting but no information on WHO owns the building?

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 8:25 p.m.

So what aren't rental inspections posted for public view in the same way restaurant inspections are?

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

I appreciate it Ryan for tracking the ownership information down. It's nice to put a name or names to who was responsible when violations and unsafe conditions like this occur.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 6:39 p.m.

Yes and when you have "bugs" the landlord has to tell the new tenants ...rule by HUD/EPA

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:38 p.m.

The resident agent listed in state records for the High-Way Company International LLC is Bashar J. Abdulsattar. I see two registered addresses for the company at 3800 Packard, Suite 250, and 3915 Research Park Drive, Suite A8. Formation date: Nov. 20, 2007. County records show the company owns properties at 2572 Grant Drive in Pittsfield Township (bought in 2009 for $70K), 2385 Traver Blvd. in Ann Arbor (bought in April 2011 for $200K), and the 1310 Packard property mentioned in this story (bought in December 2009 for $350K)


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

The owner is listed. Fire safety meets national standards and crime is waaaaaay down. These are the facts. Sorry you don't like the mayor or the job he is doing but trying to find fault here for him is ludicrous.