HGTV star Nicole Curtis wins fight with Detroit's land bank over house

Detroit — A judge has awarded a rundown property in Islandview to HGTV star Nicole Curtis, closing out a years-long dispute over the house she's been fighting to save. 

The Lake Orion native sued the Detroit Land Bank Authority in March to recoup her investment in the 1908 foursquare at 451 E. Grand Blvd., arguing the land bank took advantage of her when it took the deed to the house she's paid taxes on, was insuring, and had stabilized and secured. 

This house on East Grand Boulevard was purchased by HGTV star Nicole Curtis, but she got it from a seller who fraudulently sold it to her, city officials say.

Curtis' Detroit Renovations LLC paid a private owner $17,000 for the house in 2017. The next year, Curtis learned that the land bank actually held the property title.

Wayne Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny noted in a ruling issued Thursday that the land bank was awarded the house in a nuisance abatement proceeding in 2016, yet it didn't record the title for more than a year after Curtis' renovation firm recorded its deed. 

Kenny also concluded that the house "poses a nuisance and a danger to the health, safety and welfare of the community," and ordered Curtis' company to abate it by completing its renovation work. 

Curtis could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Her attorney Jim Rasor declined to comment.

Alyssa Strickland, a land bank spokeswoman, told The Detroit News that the land bank respects the court's ruling.

"Our goal for this property has always been to see it renovated and returned to productive use," Strickland said in an email. "We will be pleased to see the house rehabilitated to the benefit of its Islandview neighbors." 

In her lawsuit, Curtis argued she'd invested $60,000 into the house and the land bank should reimburse her because it stood to "directly benefit from years of labor, expertise, and money" that she had put in.

Curtis previously told The News that she intended to spend $500,000 to restore the house and had spent $10,000 alone on architectural renderings.

In court proceedings, attorneys for the land bank argued there was no evidence that Curtis or her company ever made any investment at the site.

Rasor told Kenny during a hearing in March that the only reason Curtis hadn't been able to complete the house is "because the land bank has been inconsistently telling her one thing and then the other."

Lake Orion native Nicole Curtis won a court fight Thursday to regain title to a rundown house in Detroit's Islandview neighborhood.

In a court filing, Rasor accused the land bank of "misrepresenting material facts" and asked Kenny to set aside an Aug. 17, 2020 ruling that awarded the house to the land bank and instead declare Curtis the owner, which Kenny did on Thursday. 

Curtis met with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in March to discuss her ongoing struggles with the land bank over the house. On Thursday, Duggan spokesman John Roach told The News that the mayor had "already congratulated Ms. Curtis on the ruling."

"As far as we are concerned, the matter is resolved," Roach added.

Prior to Thursday's decision, the land bank had won two separate prior legal actions related to the property.

Originally, the land bank 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.

Joyce Cauley then sold the home to Curtis' Detroit Renovations.

Once the issue was discovered, Curtis and the land bank worked toward an agreement to allow Curtis to rehab the house, but officials said those talks broke down. The land bank filed suit in July of last year to resolve the title issue,with the court rulingin the land bank's favor the following month.

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.

The house was placed on the market in late February for $40,000

Strickland told The News Thursday that there's been consistent interest in the house and four or five offers. Curtis did not place any of those offers, she said. 

"The listing will be withdrawn later today and the sign will be removed from the yard," Strickland said. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com