Three families facing evictions following tax foreclosures won a reprieve Wednesday when a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order halting the action for 14 days.
The order from U.S. District Judge Judith Levy comes amid a controversy involving several Wayne County suburbs that acquired tax-foreclosed properties from the county before its annual fall auction and resold them to developers.
Eighteen affected families filed suit Monday. Levy said the case raises “federal constitutional issues, violations of due process and equal protection,” but she only has jurisdiction in three cases whose owners hadn’t yet had eviction cases filed against them in local courts.
Another hearing is set Jan. 13.
Attorney Tarek Baydoun, who represents the families, argued the county treasurer failed to properly notify homeowners of impending foreclosures over back taxes.
His suit alleges the county failed to send notices by first-class mail, as its done in past years; a contractor paid to visit homes never showed up; and county officials blocked families from signing up for payment plans that would have removed homes from auction.
“We are alleging an intentional lack of notice, an orchestrated effort ... to deprive the notice necessary,” Baydoun said.
The families sued the Wayne County Treasurer’s office, Garden City, Dearborn, Lincoln Park, Redford Township and the city of Wayne and the three developers involved. Community officials have said they sold the homes as part of programs to prevent blight and discourage their purchase by absentee landlords.
Of the three families whose evictions have been stalled, one lives in Garden City, another is from Redford Township and the third lives in Lincoln Park.
Former Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski wrote in an email to The Detroit News on Monday that he believes his office made proper notice to owners and was clear with homeowners that not complying with payment plans could mean the loss of property.
“Now when they are in default and get a notice of eviction everyone wants to claim they weren’t given proper notice,” said Tony Tawell during the hearing Wednesday, an attorney for JSR Funding of Warren.
“They are too late.”
JSR Funding is one of the three developers named in the lawsuit who partnered with local cities to purchase the tax foreclosures.
Baydoun is alleging the contracts those developers have with the cities were no-bid and that they cherry-picked properties.
Some of the cities have disputed that.