Rental companies sue over Detroit inspection ordinance


Landlords are required to register with the city’s Building, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department and get annual certificates of compliance showing they are safe and inhabitable. Two rental property companies have filed a federal lawsuit against Detroit challenging the city’s rental inspection ordinance, saying it violates their rights against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”(Photo: Detroit News file)


Two rental property companies have filed a federal lawsuit against Detroit challenging the city’s rental inspection ordinance, saying it violates their rights against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

MS Rentals, a landlord in Gibraltar, and Garner Properties & Management, a Taylor-based property management company, argued the ordinance violates property owners’ rights by allowing city inspectors to enter their property without a warrant.

They said the ordinance also coerces property owners to allow the inspections because, if they refuse, they could face fines, liens, criminal charges and denial of a certificate of compliance. There is no venue for landlords to object to a city inspection and no way the city can get a warrant for one, the lawsuit alleges.

“Plaintiffs and those similarly situated are denied their constitutional right to the use and income generated from their real property if they fail to permit the City’s warrantless searches and as such have been damaged,” the lawsuit reads.

Under current law, housing units are supposed to be registered and have passed city inspections by obtaining a certificate of compliance before they can be rented out. City officials say they have let most landlords ignore the rules for more than a decade but have pledged a crackdown.

Detroit officials said Monday that their rental inspection regulations don’t violate landlords’ constitutional rights.

“Rental property owners have a particular obligation to ensure that the homes they rent are safe for families,” said Dave Bell, director of the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department, in an emailed statement. “Like virtually every city in the country, Detroit requires periodic inspections to ensure that property owners abide by these requirements. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that such laws are constitutional. We are confident the court here will do the same.”

Aaron Cox, an attorney for the property companies, said he’s involved in at least four similar lawsuits filed against Metro Detroit communities that are pending. In the case against Detroit, they are seeking an injunction from a federal judge to prevent the city from continuing to enforce the ordinance.

MS Rentals and Garner Properties also want to turn their legal complaint into a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Detroit landlords who paid rental registration fees or those who have been denied a certificate of compliance since 2012.

They argued the city is more interested in raising money through the ordinance than in preserving the safety of residents. They said the city has wrongfully collected “millions of dollars in unlawful registration and inspection fees.”

The two companies are asking for an unspecified amount in damages and to be reimbursed for their attorney fees.

MS Rentals, which owns property at 9224 Fielding, said a city official entered the property without permission in June 2014. At the time, the property was vacant and not registered as a rental property, according to the lawsuit.

MS Rentals was issued a ticket for failing to obtain a certificate of compliance and had to pay a fine, it said.

Garner Properties, which owns property at 14920 Faust, said the site received a ticket for failing to obtain a certificate of compliance in September 2015, according to the lawsuit. Garner Properties said the only reason it received a ticket was because it refused to allow the city to enter the property for inspection.

The company challenged the ticket and it was dismissed, according to the lawsuit.

Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said, in general, the federal Supreme Court had upheld warrantless searches of “highly regulated” businesses by government, such as restaurant inspections, when penalties are civil infractions. But law enforcement needs warrants to enter properties when criminal charges could result.

In 2016, just 4,174 Detroit addresses were registered and inspected, in a city the U.S. Census Bureau estimates as having 140,000 rental units.

As part of a year-long investigation published Oct. 5-6, The News reported that in 2015, only 1 of every 13 eviction cases was filed on an address legally registered with the city.

The News found families facing eviction in homes that were never inspected by the city and had numerous problems: lack of heat in the winter, hazardous electric systems, missing windows, infested with mice and one with a sewage-filled basement.

The City Council moved in late October to update its rental regulations, including enacting rules that stop landlords from collecting rent if they haven't passed city inspections. That is set to take affect in early 2018 but city officials haven’t announced an exact time line.

Detroit gives new indoor velodrome a spin at opening


The second indoor velodrome in the United States opened in Detroit on Saturday, giving city kids and seniors a facility where they can ride bicycles and participate in other athletic activities for free.

Several hundred people attended the grand opening of the Lexus Velodrome at 601 Mack, just west of Interstate 75, including Detroit resident Alysha McGee, who said she was impressed by the facility, which was bathed in blue and purple lighting.

“The city really stepped outside the box with this,” she said. “It has a European feel to it.”

The $4 million velodrome and sports complex — which features a bicycle path, walking and running track and weight area — was paid for by an undisclosed “angel donor” and is operated by the nonprofit Detroit Fitness Foundation, which was formed in 2016.

“Our mission statement is simple: to provide fitness and sporting opportunities for Detroiters, with a focus on kids and seniors,” Detroit Fitness Foundation director Dale Hughes said during Saturday’s opening ceremony.

“The best part is, it’ll be free. The bikes are free; everything is free. Our goal is to see if we can get some young Detroiter who has never seen a velodrome in his life to make it to the Olympics.”

The facility sits on 1.4 acres in the northeast corner of Tolan Playfield, which features basketball courts, walking paths, and a climbing hill. Classes will be offered for bicycling, running, walking and skating.

The “jewel” of the facility, Hughes said, is the 1/10-mile long Olympic-style velodrome, a bicycle path featuring a sloped path. Bicyclists competed Saturday in exhibition races, exceeding speeds of 40 mph.

Lexus, which in November landed the naming rights for the velodrome, on Saturday unveiled the 2018 LS 500 sedan at the opening.

In addition to funding the velodrome, the donor donated $125,000 for improvements to Tolan Playfield, which is named after Thomas “The Midnight Express” Tolan, a Detroiter and Olympic gold medalist who set records in the 100-yard dash, and Olympic 100- and 200-meter sprints in the 1930s.

The city plans to spend $250,000 to add playground equipment, a picnic shelter, tables, fitness areas, a skateboard ramp and horseshoe pits to Tolan Playfield, along with refurbishing basketball courts.

Hughes has overseen the construction of more than 20 velodromes, including the facility used in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He said the donor required a velodrome be part of the project, although the donor wanted more recreational activities to be offered. The first indoor velodrome in the U.S. is in Los Angeles.

The Detroit Fitness Foundation will operate the facility for six years, with an option to renew the contract with the city for another six years.

Detroit resident Barbara Jean Patton, who attended Saturday’s opening ceremony, said the facility is one more indication the city is making a comeback.

“A few years ago, they were saying ‘last one out of Detroit, turn out the lights,’” she said. “Now, it’s a complete turnaround. It’s good to have nice things for the people in this city to enjoy.”

Finley: Another Two Detroits tale

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There are two versions of the auto industry on display this week at the North American International Auto Show in Cobo Center. And I’m finding it hard to reconcile them, Finley writes.


It’s tougher today to think about the automobile industry in a singular sense.

Is car making still about putting together iron, rubber, glass and sheet metal to produce a rolling work of art that fuels both the imagination and the national economy?

Or is it about utilitarian boxes that plug into the wall and come when you summon them, take you where you want to go, then go away leaving the passengers indifferent to fit, finish and performance?

Both versions are on display this week at the North American International Auto Show in Cobo Center. And I’m finding it hard to reconcile them.

My growing-up years caught the last phase of the automobile’s golden age. Cars still had tail fins, and chrome grilles, and expansive interiors. What a man drove said a lot about who he was, his politics, attitudes and pocketbook.

There’s still some of that today, but not as much. The SUVs that dominate the Cobo floor vary in their degree of luxury, but share a sameness in on-road presence. The hot-shot young financier could easily be driving the same model Jeep as the old guy on the assembly line who built them.

Still, the North American International Auto Show is at its core a consumer show, put on by the auto dealers and not the automakers. So it’s designed to tempt and tease and coax attendees into trading in the salt-covered relics they drove downtown for something bright and unscratched. And loaded up with all sorts of electronic gadgetry that may cause you to sit in the garage and forget to drive it out.

The techno toys are what unite auto shows past and present with auto show future. But the transition is not clearly mapped.

Last week at the Consumer Electronic Show, the auto industry occupied 300,000 square feet of a business-to-business convention that used to thrive on cellphones, robots and sex toys.

Dozens of product reveals were held in Vegas, but none of that product was of the conventional sort you’ll see in Detroit this week. It was all about the Cloud, and connectivity, and ticking off the technology steps to get to the point where the word “motorist” refers to a wizard in the sky, not the person behind the wheel.

More than 150 displays populate the NAIAS AutoMobili-D expo dedicated to the future of autonomous vehicles. The industry’s vision is clearly focused on a point well beyond moving hot cars out of showrooms.

That’s where my personal connectivity issues come in to play.

If I’m not actually driving the car, will I care about horsepower and handling? If the vehicle I own a time-share in isn’t sitting in my driveway, do I care whether its design gives me goose bumps when I look out the window? If it’s electric, as it’s bound to be, will I even care about what’s under the hood?

And if all that doesn’t matter anymore, what happens to the heart of the industry that is under Cobo’s hot lights for the next two weeks?

The self-driving car future is something I can’t quite imagine, so it’s hard for it to stir my imagination.

And imagination has always been what the auto show has meant to me — mentally placing myself behind the wheel of those growling beauties on the display floor.

If there’s no wheel, and no growl, and no primal stirring, the Detroit auto show in 20 years may as well be a giant basement with a bunch of nerds playing video games.

Detroit gang leaders sentenced to decades in prison

Denise Page Hood

Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood sentenced gang leader Jerome Hamilton of Detroit to 30 years in prison while his deputy, Darriyon Mills of Detroit, received a 24-year sentence.(Photo: Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)


Two leaders of the Rollin 60s Crips street gang were sentenced Friday to decades in federal prison, the latest crackdown on violent crime in Detroit.

Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood sentenced gang leader Jerome Hamilton of Detroit to 30 years in prison while his deputy, Darriyon Mills of Detroit, received a 24-year sentence.

The duo pleaded guilty last year to racketeering conspiracy and firearm charges after being accused of participating in gang-related murders, shootings and drug deals, federal prosecutors said.

“Today’s sentence sends a clear message that we will not tolerate the senseless violence committed by criminal gangs,” said Paul Vanderplow, acting special agent in charge of the Detroit Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “Every citizen has the right to feel safe in their neighborhoods.”

Hamilton, 26, admitted approving the attempted murder of a member of the rival Playboy Gangster Crips in 2011. He also took responsibility for firebombing a rival’s house and the 2011 homicide of Kionte Atkins during a drive-by shooting.

Hamilton, who started the gang’s Detroit branch in 2006, also admitted being involved in distributing marijuana and prescription pills.

The gang has about 150 members who operate primarily on Detroit’s west side near Seven Mile and Tracey.

Mills, 22, Hamilton’s second-in-command, admitted committing armed robberies, carjackings and multiple attempted murders. He also sold drugs, which bankrolled the gang’s activities.

A dozen members of the gang have struck plea deals or been convicted during a broader crackdown on violent street gangs in Detroit.

Detroit RiverWalk link features path over water


An updated design shows the new RiverWalk link that connects the larger pedestrian/bike path with West Riverfront Park.


Newly released renderings of a proposed link for the Detroit RiverWalk show it would jut onto the river and connect the 3.5-mile pedestrian/bicycle trail with West Riverfront Park.

The updated images highlight a public RiverWalk path that sits atop the Detroit River and is 17 feet from the current water’s edge, which is private property. The property is part of the Riverfront Towers, a rental and condominium complex. The residential complex, made up of three residential towers, is just west of Joe Louis Arena.

Residents were shown the images Thursday evening at a meeting with representatives of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the nonprofit that runs the RiverWalk. The updated designs revealed more security measures than previous plans released last year. Other updates include a private access point for the residents to the public path. Plans also include an adjacent new marina, with 36 slips, that would be built by the owners of the residential complex.

The RiverWalk is one the city’s most popular attractions with more than 3 million people using some part of the downtown path annually. The main portion of the pedestrian/bike path spans from Gabriel Richard Park near Belle Isle to Joe Louis Arena.

Currently, the western point of the main path ends at Joe Louis Arena and then veers away from the riverfront and onto Jefferson Avenue to get around the Riverfront Towers. The path then reconnects to the waterfront at West Riverfront Park.

The new link would mean the path stays on the riverfront, using the new waterborne path to get around the residential complex and connect to West Riverfront Park.

No fishing, benches or planters will be permitted along

No fishing, benches or planters will be permitted along the boardwalk. Signs will indicate "quiet zone" and the boardwalk will be closed with a barricade afterhours. (Photo: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy)

“This is the culmination of years and years of work,” retired U.S Sen. Carl Levin said Thursday. Levin is on the board of directors of the Riverfront Conservancy. Prior to his 17 years as a U.S. senator, he was on the Detroit City Council in the 1970s.

“I remember talking about this idea back then,” referring to his time on City Council. “We knew it would be great. Finally, it’s happening.”

Work on the new link is expected to begin this fall and will take more than a year to complete, officials said.

The waterborne path in front of Riverfront Towers is just one piece of the new link that would go through three separately owned properties at the site.

West Riverfront Park is a 22-acre site between Rosa Parks Boulevard and Eighth Street. The park has been open to the public since 2014.

The public will soon see conceptual renderings and models of what West Riverfront Park could look like. A Feb. 8 meeting is planned to give the public its first chance to see presentations from the four finalist firms that are competing to redesign the park.

Beginning on Feb. 10, the renderings will be on display for two weeks during a public exhibition at 1001 Woodward downtown.