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Posted on Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 7:10 a.m.

Judge: Vacate and demolish Liberty Square in Ypsilanti Township

By Tom Perkins

A judge has ordered the demolition of Liberty Square and its remaining residents must vacate the troubled townhome complex within 60 days.

Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton declared the 40-year-old complex a public nuisance and called it a “dilapidated and essentially abandoned housing area” in his written order. An attorney representing several of the remaining property owners in Liberty Square has said he will appeal the decision.

Ypsilanti Township will pay for the demolition of the 151 units in 17 buildings and a lien will be assessed to the property, which is located on Grove Road just west of Rawsonville Road.

Because the complex was declared a public nuisance, Michigan law doesn’t require the homeowners be compensated. But the order does require the township to “reasonably assist” the few remaining tenants with relocation, though officials weren’t yet clear on what that would entail.

Shelton cited the testimony and evidence presented by township building inspector Ron Fulton and Shelton’s own visit to the complex to inspect its conditions on June 24.

Among other issues to which Fulton testified and Shelton said he observed:

  • Extensive water damage because the units and buildings aren’t weather-tight. That has led to mold intrusion.
  • Most roofs are in need of replacement, most fascia is rotting and brick walls are damaged or deteriorating.
  • Extensive vandalism through the buildings left 50 percent of its windows broken and all the vacant units were stripped of metal and appliances.
  • A large exterior column outside one of the buildings rotted and collapsed in front of a building.
  • Several units that burned remain uninhabited and were not repaired.
  • Individual unites are in danger of collapse due to rotting subflooring.

“The dilapidated and crumbling conditions at Liberty Square present a continuing, impending danger to the general public and to the legitimate property or personal rights of any person living or even entering upon the complex,” Shelton wrote.

Shelton also cited the testimony of independent structural engineer Thomas Fitzpatrick, who determined that the buildings were experiencing significant wood rot and that wood in the buildings was “like butter.”

According to the order, Fitzpatrick testified the nine to 11 units in each building are “tied together” at the top and the foundations are so inadequate that the units would collapse if neighboring units were demolished.

Because of those issues, the court opted to order the demolition of the entire complex instead of just unoccupied units or buildings.

Shelton also highlighted the complex ownership situation. Each unit is individually owned, and each property owner is automatically part of the Grove Park Home Improvement Association, which is the owners’ legal representative.

The Home Improvement Association is responsible for all of the buildings’ exterior upkeep, though it had failed to maintain the properties in recent years. Shelton noted a 2006 Washtenaw County Office of Community Standards study that found the $170.00 in monthly maintenance fees owners had been paying clearly hadn’t been put towards maintenance.

Shelton also wrote that the ownership arrangement requires a “critical mass” of residents paying dues monthly, and he said Liberty Square had been well short of that critical mass for years.

Of the 151 units, many have already been foreclosed on and are owned by the township, and a total of 122 will have been foreclosed on by March 31, 2012. Nine owner-occupied units remain, and the units have lost an average of 70 percent of their value between 2008 and 2011.

Shelton acknowledged that the remaining nine owners want to make improvements to their homes, but said they lack the resources to make the entire property safe and bring it up to code.

“While the court is sympathetic to their concerns, the nature of the collective housing ownership scheme is such that they are powerless to undertake the massive structural repairs that would make the complex safe,” Shelton wrote.

Attorney Don Darnell, who represented many of the property owners, said none of the issues Fulton testified to were present in his clients’ townhomes.

“Literally none of them,” Darnell said, adding that Fulton testified that he didn’t inspect the homes of the owners represented by Darnell. “This is a matter of guilt by association.”

He said some the issues were present in the buildings, but no evidence was presented that any of it constituted a threat to the public.

He said he was disappointed but added “after doing this for 15 years, nothing surprises me anymore.”

Fulton defended his testimony.

“Twenty years of neglect and deterioration cannot be fabricated on the witness stand,” he said. “It would be absurd to suggest that there are no public nuisance issues going on at the Square. Virtually every individual with whom I have spoken, including current and past owners as well as current and past residents, realize that the degradation of the exterior is extreme, leading to the uninhabitability of the interior.”

Township Attorney Dennis McLain also disagreed with Darnell’s assessment.

“It’s clear there are dangers that exist to the public; not just to the occupants but to anybody who comes into contact or within the vicinity of those structures,” he said. “It’s not something taken lightly by the township, and we are concerned about the remaining residents. They are residents of the township and they deserve consideration.”

Carolyn Chadwick is one of the owner occupants who is being forced from her home. She said she is worried she could become homeless and disagrees that the buildings are uninhabitable.

“We believe these are very sound homes,” she said. “I’m going to respect the law of the land and leave, but I’m very disturbed and I believe after all the time I’ve lived here, all the money I’ve spent, I’ve been paying taxes this whole time and trying to maintain my property, so we should be compensated to be able to find a new place.”

Mike Radzik, director of the township’s office of community standards, said he is unsure what the township will do to help with relocation. In the past, such as when the Ypsilanti Mobile Village trailer park was shut down, the Washtenaw County Office of Community Development has helped residents relocate and assisted with moving costs.



Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 4:49 a.m.

So where were all the "Ron Fulton's" 20 years ago when he says the problem started? Another case where the regulators failed to do their job of regulating. In Fulton's own testimony he stated "you can't create 20 years of neglect on the stand". Good job you government regulators. chalk another on up for you while displacing and adding suffering to the people you were supposed to protect, but did not through regulatory neglect. When is Fulton's incompetance trial starting?

Animal Lover

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

If the remaining families living there have paid their taxes and kept the home up, the township should HAVE to find them a comparable place to own and live. Where is Habitat for Humanity when you need them. These families should have the choice to be the very next families to get a home in the township from Habitat for Humanity or Habitat for Humanity should not get tax breaks to build in the township. I admit I don't like Liberty Square, but I pay my taxes and I don't want the township to take my home because they don't like my neighborhood.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:33 p.m.

whoever is to blame for the present condition It Needs To Go NOW.

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:11 p.m.

I really feel for the people who will be displaced. I'm a divorced mother of 3 with no money. I couldn't just find a new place to live, like that. And, considering they've been living in that place, despite how unsafe it is, I'm willing to bet that most of the residents just don't have the available cash to just up and relocate. I really hope they get some help. That being said, the place sounds disgusting and unsafe, and I can't fault the courts/township for wanting it to be demolished. Mold? Crumbling infrastructure in the buildings? That's not something you can just throw a few dollars at to fix. It sounds like this is long overdue. Still, I feel for the residents and wish them all the best. I hope they're able to relocate somewhere safe, clean and affordable.

Urban Sombrero

Fri, Aug 26, 2011 : 1:55 a.m.

#jns, I don't need help! Gah, perish the thought. It's just tight with one income instead of two. I'm prone to hyperbole, but my kids don't go without.


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 6:33 p.m.

Yes detroit is making citizen an offer of $ 3,500 to move to the city and homeowners $ 20, 000 ......yes the grass is green on the other side!


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

Contact the Red Cross. They should be able to navigate you into the right area.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Throwing confetti and celebrating a major victory over Ypsilanti blight. Tell the judge we need to build a park here. Who is up for a fund raiser to build a nice park across from the school?


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 7:54 p.m.

. Good decision, Your Honor.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 7:53 p.m.

only 40 years old, dang, burn it, shut it down, and re build

Ben Petiprin

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

Does this seriously not trouble anyone else? Some busy-body types can just take issue with your home on mainly cosmetic grounds, take you to court and ultimately have you evicted. Are there no rights that come with owning property?

Monica R-W

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 7:36 a.m.

No. Not really when the Home or in this case homes are a danger to the residents and surrounding community. Good job on this Ypsilanti Township and Judge Shelton!

Dexter Bear

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 5:22 p.m.

Given the time period during which Liberty Square was built, it is highly likely there was widespread use of asbestos-containing construction materials, with a very high possibility of asbestos-containing drywall mud. I certainly hope that this aspect of demolition will be attended to *PRIOR* to beginning the demolition per the EPA's asbestos NESHAP laws that require an asbestos survey to be done in buildings of this age and use. If there is asbestos in there, to recklessly demolish without knowing what you are getting into will put many, many people at possible risk for exposure, in addition to the overall affect of possible contamination spreading to neighboring areas.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

"... the units have lost an average of 70 percent of their value between 2008 and 2011." And everyone else's, too. Should we be worried? Nine units? The township probably has at least nine habitable homes that have been foreclosed on for failure to pay taxes. It seems like the Township and the County Treasurer could step up to the plate here and solve two problems at one time. Second, it bothers me that the Judge took a little field trip in this case. Did the township building inspector accompany him? Were the owners represented at this visit, and if not, did that amount to a private audience with the judge for the Township? Did the judge visit the units that are still occupied? Did the structural engineer examine them as well? When it comes right down to it, judges aren't supposed to investigate. Period. If Shelton felt it was "necessary" to investigate, either: * the judge was biased toward the Township's position, or * the Township didn't present its case well enough in court for the Judge to make an impartial decision * he's getting a little bored in the confines of the courtroom. This decision needs to be reviewed on appeal. Judges shouldn't be helping anybody make their cases in court.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

The judge weighs evidence. Evidence could be reports, testimony from experts, photographs, videos, etc. The judge has no special expertise in construction. The trip to the site was entirely unnecessary, probably highly prejudicial and at its core, unfair.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

I don't know if you've ever tried it, but it's a little hard to being an entire apartment complex into the courthouse for the court to view. It's a bit easier to take the court to the apartment complex. By the way - wherever the judge is, that's where the court is, whether that inside or outside of the courthouse.

The Picker

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

This is a failure of local government on a grand scale. If the laws had been enforced long ago, the rights of law abiding citizens would be intact today. Crack heads have ruled this complex since the 80's and nothing was done by the building authorities. The fact that the police were on site nightly and still the problem continued is a testment to this failure, and this process took place during good times. I feel for the many aging condo complexes that are starting to reach that tipping point where maintenance costs will exceed the associatiion fees and the slow downward spiral that will accompany this trend.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:13 p.m.

To those that are still there, I do hope the township goes above and beyond finding new residence for you. I agree with the judge and township, but please don't stop now. With the ageing population of the region, wouldn't this parcel of land be a nice assisted living complex? maybe some jobs too?


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

This has been a long time coming. I feel bad for the folks who still live there and hope the Township provides them with adequate assistance to vacate, but he whole complex is a disaster waiting to happen. The chances of fire, pests, crime and other problems will be eliminated once this complex is gone. Good decision, Your Honor.

Silly Sally

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

Why not encourage a group such as Habitat for Humanity to repair the abandoned units and then they could give them to desirving people who will care for them? This seems more fair than destroying ALL units.

Robert Fesmire

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

Have you seen this place? Habitat for Humanity might be a very good idea, but they would be far better off starting with a vacant piece of property then what is currently there.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

Because there are only nine (9), owners there. It makes no more sense for H4H to throw good money after bad then for these 9 people to do it. Perhaps if H4H needs/wants to get involved, it might be to find a new spot for these people. The place they are now is no good and nothing short of several million dollars is going to fix that. For that kind of money you could buy every one of those nine people a house.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:10 p.m.

pest - Habitat for Humanity recipients do not get their homes for free. They are required to do so many hours of volunteer work for Habitat and do get special mortgages and financing to pay for the homes.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:24 p.m.

"Deserving people" pay for their own houses.