Judge: Rivershell Apartments must notify tenants of 'unsafe' conditions

Balconies to be boarded up at southside apartment complex

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THURSDAY, Nov. 18 — A local judge wants to make it very clear to the tenants of Rivershell Apartments on Bayview Drive that their balconies are not structurally sound and could pose real safety issues for those who dare to stand on them or mingle on the concrete patios below.

A court order issued this morning by 54-A District Court Judge Cynthia Ward requires that each of the 132 units at the southside apartment complex be immediately notified of the unsafe living conditions while the apartment management boards up all its balconies and sliding glass doors.

“The patios and balconies are unsafe and should not be used until further notice,” Ward said.

Lansing code enforcement officers in September plastered pink tags on every building at the sprawling apartment complex, noting that all of its units had twice failed rental inspections and subsequently lost its city rental certificates. Among the issues: Rotted balcony railings and floorboards that posed a danger to tenants who might step outside, city officials explained.

Inspection reports also pointed to sagging roofs in need of replacement, loose toilets, missing smoke detectors, busted gutters and other issues. Windows were also broken. Trash and broken appliances were scattered across the complex last month. Some walls were graffitied.

Because the management team missed the city’s Oct. 22 deadline to finish all of the repairs and bring the place up to code, Rivershell was hit with a ticket last month that brought the issue into  Ward’s courtroom late last week.

An emergency order issued at that hearing required tenants be notified of the “unsafe” conditions at the apartment complex. Ward also said she planned to require the balcony entrances and sliding glass doors on all 132 units to be boarded up to avoid an injury risk.

On Friday, a letter went out to all tenants that notified them of plans to get started on repairs — also instructing them to clear off their balconies over the weekend. It also included a relatively ambiguous footnote: “For safety reasons, balconies are not to be used until further notice.”

Ward said that notification from management failed to comply with the court’s order because it only vaguely alluded to unsafe living conditions instead of specifically using the word “unsafe.” It also wrongly instructed tenants to walk out on the balconies to retrieve their items, Ward added.

“This is not semantics. It’s communicating a pretty serious safety concern,” Ward explained.

Today’s order requires more specific language to be sent to tenants to avoid confusion: “Patios and balconies are unsafe and should not be used until further notice. This notice is being provided by order of the court,” Ward told John Mione, an attorney for Rivershell Apartments.

Mione indicated another letter to tenants would be sent this week and also noted that the management team expects to have all balconies and patios boarded up by this weekend.

Ward’s order is also expected to include a requirement that permits be pulled to finish roofing repairs and fix several poorly installed or broken windows, she explained at last week’s hearing. That order could also include a requirement that all of the required city permits be pulled in order to finish roofing repairs and fix several poorly installed or broken windows, Ward said.

If the safety issues linger, Ward could always order the complex to be shuttered altogether — though city officials have said they would strongly prefer to see the repairs completed instead.

A mayoral spokeswoman told City Pulse last month that rental certificates will only be reissued after each code compliance issue has been fixed. Meanwhile, the pink tags legally prohibit vacant units from being rented and enable tenants to pay their monthly rent into escrow accounts in the absence of a valid rental certificate. That could allow for some rent cash to be returned to the tenant should the repairs be left incomplete and the building is ordered vacated.

Tenants with additional questions can also call a city code enforcement officer at 517-483-6849.

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