David vs. Lansing

By Andy Balaskovitz

South-side resident takes on city over house demolition and loses

In 1989, David Glenn paid $10,000 for a “shabby” 1,500-square-foot single-family home near West Cavanaugh Road and South Cedar Street. Since then, he’s spent over $50,000 on the house, which has included taxes, renovations and fees associated with a nearly decade-long fight with the city to keep it standing.

Glenn, who turns 66 on Sunday, showed up to 4613 Donald St. on Nov. 6 surprised to see it half gone, in the process of being demolished. Along with the time and money spent on trying to keep it up to code over the years, Glenn said he lost roughly $20,000 worth of building materials, furniture, tools, appliances and other belongings in the demolition because he didn’t know when it was going to happen.

“I was kinda sick,” Glenn said Monday, recalling turning the corner to see the large construction equipment. “I’ll admit the house was in a state of disrepair for a long time. But I don’t think it deserved to be torn down.”

For Glenn, improvements on the 78-year-old house were an ongoing project since he bought it: But apparently it was too long of a project.

The demolition was a victory of sorts for the city, which first red-tagged the property in 2004. By 2010, Glenn was in a full-on battle with the city to keep the house standing, which included spending six days in jail after being found in contempt of court. The city said Glenn was taking too long to fix the house, but Glenn countered that he was not given due process with an appeal — and that he had been making fixes all along. A Circuit Court judge sided with Glenn in December 2010, at least temporarily, granting him a preliminary injunction against the city. It was short lived, though. The court eventually said Glenn took too long to appeal the city’s demolition order and dismissed the case. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the Circuit Court’s decision in favor of the city last November.

But in the year since the appellate court ruling, Glenn claims he was never explicitly told if or when the demolition would take place. Looking back, he said it was “implied” when the water and electricity were turned off. He hired an attorney to see if there was a last-ditch effort he could make to save the house, but he couldn’t afford a formal appeal.

An obvious question for Glenn is:

Why did it take so long to fix up your house? The answer is a combination of physical and cost constraints, a lack of water and electricity in the final stages and even a “psychological cloud” looming over him, “dealing with this nameless, faceless monolith.”

Assistant City Attorney Billie O’Berry said Glenn should have been aware that a demolition was coming based on notification that he lost at the appellate level and that there was an open bid out for the demolition work.

“You can’t sit back and do nothing and say the city didn’t inform you that you could do something to the property,” she said. “The demolition occurred well past the time he had to appeal the (appellate court) decision.

“We are under no obligation to remain in constant contact with him.”

As for the personal belongings that were destroyed: “That’s like saying you knew your car was being repossessed and you failed to take the property out,” she said. The demolition costs will end up as a lien against the property, O’Berry added.

Scott Sanford, lead housing inspector in the city’s Code Compliance Office, said one of the problems were Glenn’s “cosmetic” fixes when it needed structural changes that require various permits. “He was looking for curb appeal, not necessarily underlying issues,” Sanford said.

Glenn didn’t disagree, figuring exterior changes would at least placate those who said it looked like an eyesore. “I kept doing what I thought was appropriate,” he said. “I was trying to do the best I could to make it look presentable. I just think they had an agenda from the very beginning.”

In 2007, Mayor Virg Bernero created a Neighborhood Enhancement Action Team to closely monitor red-tagged properties, including Glenn’s. If no action is taken, the property owner is hit with a $150 monthly monitoring fee.

Even if he had known when the demolition crews were coming, Glenn wonders why the city is going after a property owner with an intent to fix up his house, evidenced by the thousands of dollars worth of building materials sitting in his house.

“You’d think if you had a house you’d want fixing up, you’d let them fix it up,” Glenn said.

But Glenn may have a little fight left in him yet. He’s considering filing suit against the city, alleging there was a conspiracy to try and demolish his home all along.

Sanford said that’s not the case: “The city isn’t interested in going around and tearing down houses.”

For several years leading up to the demolition, Glenn said he visited the house virtually on a daily basis — he just didn’t sleep there. He continues to live in the city with his longtime girlfriend. He says he still has “phantom house pains” when he sees items that might look good or fit his former home.

“Then it’s like, oh, I don’t have a home anymore.”