HGTV's Curtis makes another court bid for blighted Detroit home

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The attorney for HGTV star Nicole Curtis is accusing the Detroit Land Bank Authority of "misrepresenting material facts" in the latest round of a legal dispute over a rundown property.

Royal Oak attorney Jim Rasor made the allegations against the land bank in a Friday legal filing in Wayne County Circuit Court. He is asking the court to set aside an August ruling that awarded a house at 451 E. Grand Boulevard to the land bank and to declare Curtis the owner. 

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.

"Our motion seeks to expose the DLBA's misrepresentation to the court and award the property to Detroit Renovations, Nicole Curtis' company because by operation of law, she's the real owner," Rasor told The Detroit News late Friday. The court made the property title ruling on Aug. 17, 2020, but Rasor said if a party learns within a year of an order that there was fraud or misrepresentation they have the ability to ask the court to set it aside.

The filing came one day after Curtis met with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to discuss her ongoing struggles with the land bank over the 1908 foursquare in Islandview that Curtis purchased from a private owner in 2017 for $17,000. 

The Lake Orion native said she sunk $60,000 into rehabbing the property before she was notified in 2018 that the land bank actually held the title. 

More:Duggan: Nicole Curtis 'scammed' in fight over Detroit home

More:See inside the Detroit house that Nicole Curtis is suing to save

Curtis sued the land bank earlier this month, arguing it took advantage of her when it took the deed to the house that she'd paid taxes on, was insuring and had stabilized and secured. 

Duggan told reporters Monday he was hopeful that Curtis would bid on the house, which the land bank placed on the market in late February for $40,000.

Duggan's spokesman John Roach declined Friday to comment on the meeting with Curtis, which also included land bank attorneys and Rasor.

Rasor said Friday he was glad Curtis was able "to tell the mayor first-hand of the challenges of working with the land bank and the issues with redeveloping properties in the city of Detroit."

Alyssa Strickland, a spokeswoman for the land bank, reiterated Friday that the authority does not comment on pending litigation. Previously, Strickland noted the land bank had already won two separate prior legal actions related to the property, including the action that Rasor is now seeking to overturn. 

"It's important for the mayor to understand how this process could be improved," Rasor said. "What I got from the conversation is that the mayor was looking for a win-win that would allow that house to be redeveloped in a way that's appropriate. I found the mayor's approach to be refreshing. He was looking for a solution."

Curtis, in a text message to The News, said Friday "no matter the outcome, we will still be here putting our time in to preserve these beautiful homes and do our part to bring positive exposure for this city.

"And trust, we're not asking for anything to be given to us for free, trust there's people emailing us every day to give us free houses and cities wanting us to work with them —  just want what's right," she wrote.

Detroit Renovations purchased the home from Detroit resident Joyce Cauley. Curtis and the land bank worked toward an agreement to allow Curtis to rehab the house once the land bank claimed the title, but those talks broke down. 

Attempts by The News to reach Cauley have been unsuccessful.

The land bank originally filed a nuisance lawsuit in 2015 against owners Jerome and Joyce Cauley to compel them to renovate the blighted house.

The Cauleys 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.

Nicole Curtis

The land bank filed suit in July to resolve the title issue. The court ruled in the land bank's favor a month later. 

In January, the land bank asked the court to set a date for Curtis’ company to vacate the property. The court set a deadline of Feb. 12.

As of late last week, the house had more than 40 showings. Strickland said Friday that no formal offers have yet been made. 

Rasor, in his Friday motion, argues the land bank failed on many fronts, including waiting two years after being awarded ownership to file the property title with the Register of Deeds. 

Further, Rasor contends the land bank had no property right in 2015 when it originally filed suit against the Cauleys simply to abate a nuisance.

As a result of the Cauleys failure to comply with the nuisance action, the land bank was awarded the property as compensation to defray costs of abating the nuisance, court costs and attorney fees, the motion notes. 

But Rasor claims in the five years since the house was identified as a nuisance, the land bank failed to take any action to secure or repair it. 

"Without my client's intervention to stabilize this home and protect this home, it's likely what the land bank would have is a collapsed, burned out, scrapped heap of rubble at this point in time," Rasor told The News.

"They are alleging Joyce Cauley tried to rip off our client and that our client was the victim of a scam," he said. "The only scam that's going on right now is the DLBA tried to cheat Joyce Cauley out of this home and now has cheated Nicole Curtis out of this home by misrepresenting material facts to the court."

A hearing in the lawsuit filed by Curtis this year is scheduled for Monday. The land bank is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.