HGTV's Nicole Curtis to meet with Detroit mayor over house dispute

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan is expected to meet with HGTV star Nicole Curtis on Thursday to discuss an ongoing legal dispute with the land bank over a rundown property in Islandview.

Curtis made the request of the mayor during a Tuesday night citywide community meeting, Duggan's spokesman John Roach confirmed.

"The mayor was very clear that he appreciates all that Nicole has done in the city of Detroit and he wants to try to work through any issues she's having," Roach said in a text message Wednesday. 

The front of a house on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Thursday, March 18, 2021. HGTV star Nicole Curtis is in a battle with the Detroit Land Bank Authority over this 1908 home.

Curtis sued the Detroit Land Bank Authority earlier this month, arguing it took advantage of her when it took the deed to a house she'd sunk $60,000 into rehabbing. Curtis purchased the 1908 foursquare for $17,000 in 2017 from a private owner. The next year, she learned that the land bank actually held the title to the property.

Just days ago, Duggan told reporters that "it appears she was scammed" and said he was hopeful that she would bid on the house, which was put on the market in late February for $40,000.

Curtis, a Lake Orion native featured in the show "Rehab Addict Rescue" contends in her Wayne County Circuit Court lawsuit that she's entitled to ownership of the property — based on her substantial investment and belief that she'd owned it — or the land bank should compensate her. 

“My goal is preservation, home-ownership and neighborhood improvement. Those I hope are shared by the City of Detroit and the Land Bank," she wrote on Instagram Monday. "I only hope that the Mayor and the Land Bank will work with me on a positive resolution to a situation that will be mutually beneficial and where ego and financial gain plays no role."

Curtis' company, Detroit Renovations LLC, purchased the house at 451 E. Grand Boulevard. Afterward, she has said, she covered the cost of taxes, insurance and securing the house. She's also said she'd spent about $10,000 on architectural renderings alone. 

Nicole Curtis

Curtis has said it's been her intention to invest about $500,000 into restoring the house.

After Detroit Renovations purchased the home from Joyce Cauley and later was informed of the title issue, Curtis and the land bank worked toward an agreement to allow Curtis to rehab the house. Those talks were unsuccessful. Ultimately, a court ruled that the title rested with the land bank. 

Attempts to reach Cauley were unsuccessful.

The land bank originally filed a nuisance lawsuit in 2015 against Jerome and Joyce Cauley to compel them to renovate the blighted house. They did not occupy the property at that time, the land bank noted, and failed to meet their commitments. In January 2017, the property title was transferred back to the land bank.

Duggan, during an unrelated Monday press briefing, said he's a huge fan of Curtis but stressed that the city has to follow the law.

"... I feel bad for Nicole. It appears she was scammed," he said. "It appears she paid somebody who didn't own the house and paid them to buy it. But the land bank can't legally just give her the property."

In her Monday Instagram post, Curtis wrote the land bank "is able to negotiate disposition in a fair and responsible manner."

Curtis said Wednesday that she appreciates the mayor's empathy, but his characterization of a scam is misguided.

"Let me assure you there is a lot more information that will come out about the lack of process, communication and a questionable legal "taking" of real estate by the government outside of the foreclosure," she wrote in a text message. "Again, we have done our best to negotiate a mutually beneficial resolution that is fair and realistic. And we have been shut down at every turn by the DLBA, its director and attorney team."

Curtis added she's always had a great rapport with Duggan and is hopeful that "putting us both in a room with the DLBA will bring resolution."

The land bank has said it will not comment on pending litigation. Previously, spokeswoman Alyssa Strickland noted that the land bank had already won two separate prior legal actions related to the property. Strickland had no comment on Wednesday.

The land bank filed suit in July to resolve the title issue. The court ruled in the land bank's favor a month later, extinguishing any other claims to the property. 

In January, the DLBA filed a motion for supplemental relief, asking the court to set a date for Curtis’ company to vacate the property. The court order the property vacated by Feb. 12.

As of late last week, the house had more than 40 showings. Those interested included families and investors, both in Michigan and beyond.

As of Tuesday, no offers had been received, Strickland said. 

Curtis, in an interview, has described the rough conditions inside, noting there are no doors or windows and the flooring has holes that provide a view to the basement. The restoration is "a very scary project," she previously told The News, but it's something she's familiar with.

It's been seven months since the land bank "publicly laid claim" to the house, Curtis told The News late last week, and "refused our requests for resolve."