Liberty Square owners say Ypsilanti Township won't issue permits so they can make improvements
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
The two units Carolyn Chadwick owns in Ypsilanti Township’s Liberty Square complex have seen significant improvements to their exteriors in the last several months.
The township condemned her building due to numerous problems with the facade, but Chadwick says the exteriors are now up to code.
But the township condemned the entire building, not the individual townhouses, leaving some owners angry and confused by that approach — especially ones who say their units are free of code violations.
Owners also are upset because the township won’t send out a building inspector to determine what's wrong with the individual units or issue building permits allowing them make repairs and improvements.
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
Township officials have twice served notices of violations in Liberty Square — once in early summer and an addendum to the first in late August — and they're preparing a lawsuit they say could name multiple owners as defendants.
Each building in the complex off South Grove Road has 10 to 12 units, and the notices state the entire buildings must be brought up to code or demolished. For example, one notice of violations states the property at 3151 Morris through 3187 Morris was inspected, and multiple code violations were found.
Officials declined to discuss the situation in detail because they say they're developing a legal strategy for a complicated case.
“The notice of violations clearly states the intention,” Mike Radzik, the township’s director of the Office of Community Standards, said. “It doesn’t matter if one unit in the middle is somehow up to code, it’s that the rest are condemned and in deplorable shape. Unless the rest are brought up to code, they are condemned, and that has been our position, and that continues to be our position.”
The addendums to the first notices were posted on Aug. 20 and gave owners in the 151-unit complex 30 days to bring the buildings up to code or demolish them.
Among the items listed in disrepair in the units from 3151 to 3187 Morris Street are exterior wood, sophits, fascia, windows, doors and trim. It also requests repairs be made to the sidewalk, porch, roof and drainage. All the other notices list similar problems.
There are five to eight owner-occupants remaining in the complex. Grove Park Homes LLC, which is owned by Glenda Ault, owned 81 units until the county treasurer's office foreclosed on 63 of them. Grove Park now has 18 townhouses in its possession. Ault’s husband, Joe Koenig, is an employee of Grove Park Homes and also is the resident agent for the Grove Park Home Improvement Association, which owns 25 units.
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
Many residents say they're upset with Koenig and Ault for letting their properties fall into disrepair and for gutting the 63 units of scrap metal and appliances before the county seized them. The remainder of the townhouses are owned by landlords; some own multiple units.
The county recently put its 63 properties on the auction block with a $126,000 performance bond requiring a potential buyer to demolish the units. No one purchased the homes, and they will go back on the auction block on Oct. 26 with a starting bid of $350. The performance bond is still included and will be used to pay for demolition. If the properties aren't demolished, the buyer will forfeit them.
Marilyn Moore is one of the property owners. She rented out three units until the tenants left following the first round of notices in May. She bought her three townhouses for a total of $33,000 over the last 10 years.
Moore said she wants the township to outline what's wrong with individual units so they can be fixed up.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with my units,” she said. “They just sent out a blanket statement to the homeowners association. I don’t know what they want me to think. I don’t mind fixing my units if they tell me what’s wrong.”
She said she doesn’t know what she'll do if the properties are demolished.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” she said.
Bruce Gatward bought a townhouse for $27,000 in 2005 and rented it out until a tenant recently left. He said he wanted to make repairs on his townhouse and the neighboring units in his building.
Gatward said he submitted a building permit request to work on the roof and some exterior wood, but it was rejected. The rejection letter states Gatward isn't the proper person to be making the request.
Gatward said the Grove Park Home Improvement Association receives dues to maintain the facades and roofs, but he contends it’s the individuals who own that property, and therefore he should be allowed to make the improvements.
The letter also states the roof’s decking below the shingles could be rotting, but Gatward said a contractor checked and found no issues. Lastly, the letter stated that even if he brought the entire building up to code, it wouldn’t be enough to repair the entire community.
“I did what I needed to do, made a reasonable offer to take care of things and they said no,” Gatward said. He added he understands the township “is doing everything they can do to demolish Liberty Square because it's an embarrassment to Ypsilanti Township,” but he's frustrated he's not permitted to make repairs.
Chadwick has painted her townhouses and some of the neighboring units, cemented the porch back to her unit and replaced some wood on the building. She said the repairs only cost her $250 so far, and she’s prepared to do similar work on all the other units in her building to bring them up to code. She said she's doing the work without a permit since the township won't issue one.
Radzik said the township is still looking at the entire community, and building inspectors won't be sent out to assess the individual units.
“We have no purpose to do that at this point,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we find in a unit, it wouldn’t change the condemnation. Even if there were five out of 150 that would somehow pass inspection, it wouldn’t change the overall condition. To our knowledge, none of them are code compliant on the outside at all."
Radzik added township officials continue to address numerous problems as a result of the complex's condition. He said building inspectors boarded up 12 homes in recent days at a cost of $200 each, and people continue attempting to break into the homes they secure.
He said the township also issued another notice of violations to the homeowners association, giving it 14 days to clean up garbage, debris and trash that people are throwing on front lawns and in common areas as they clean out their units. Township officials were alerted to the problem by an owner-occupant in the complex. If the homeowners association doesn't clean up the debris, the township will seek a court order allowing it to clean the complex and bill the homeowners association.
"It is absolutely ridiculous what's gong on out there in terms of property damage and destruction to property," Radzik said.
He said he's not sure what will happen to the owner-occupants who still live there, but that issue will likely be decided in court. County and state social agencies have been assisting renters with finding other affordable housing, and assistance is available through the Homelessness Prevention Rapid Re-housing program. That program can be reached at 734-662-2829, extension 232.
Tom Perkin is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.