Detroit inspecting flood-damaged rentals after clean-up deadline

Ben Wilson
The Detroit News

Detroit — City officials have begun inspecting flood-damaged rental units across Detroit to evaluate whether landlords met a Monday deadline to make repairs.

The City of Detroit Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department is assessing properties rented by those who have filed complaints, elderly or disabled tenants and families with young children. 

City landlords had until the end of the day Monday to clean up rental properties. Those who haven't could face fines of up to $250 per day, and if they are dodging calls from their tenants, the city can issue a misdemeanor, according to Jessica Parker, chief enforcement officer for property maintenance in Detroit. 

The first half-dozen inspections took place Tuesday evening. It wasn't immediately clear whether any fines had been issued. 

Andrea Ely, left, speaks with building inspector Monica Sparks, in front of her Detroit home, July 20, 2021. Ely's home has flooded due to rain several times.

"If we find that the landlord has not taken the responsibility to not only respond to the emergency situation but even respond to the tenant, then we escalate the importance," she told The Detroit News. "It's not just issuing tickets, we can issue a misdemeanor, and because it's an emergency, it will be issued."

Separately, city inspectors also are visiting the homes of hundreds of vulnerable residents eligible for assistance with the cleaning and sanitizing of their basements. 

Mayor Mike Duggan has pushed for the enforcement and protection of renters and providing help to vulnerable homeowners after June 25 and 26 rainstorms devastated households across the city. Detroit got about six inches of rain over a five-hour span, prompting flooding and basement backups on the city's east side and in the nearby Grosse Pointe communities. 

"Our renters have the right to live in a safe environment with hot water and a working furnace," the mayor said this month. "We will make sure that landlords in our city are held accountable."

Parker estimates there are over 40,000 rental units across Detroit. Statistics have not been made available on how many reports have been filed for flood damage in city rentals. 

The rental inspection process will last between 30 minutes and an hour. Tenants should expect to perform the walkthrough with an inspector. If there is standing water, officials will not enter the basement but assess the damage from a safe distance, she said. 

"We're making sure the landlord has taken the proper steps to sanitize the basement," Parker said. "Also, looking to see if the electrical panel is operable and if the hot water tank and furnace are operable. We're looking for the utilities."

Landlords can expect enforcement "to the greatest extent" if they avoid repairs, Parker added.

"You wouldn't want you or your family members living in this condition so why should you allow your tenants to live in this condition," she said. "The city is taking this seriously." 

The crackdown follows President Joe Biden's Thursday approval of an emergency declaration for Michigan for devastation tied to the June rainstorms. The designation means Washtenaw and Wayne counties have access to federal resources to provide temporary housing, loans for uninsured victims, and other recovery measures. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer estimated 68,000 applicants will be eligible for over $180 million in federal money. Those facing damage from flooding last Friday will not be eligible for the funds. 

Detroit last week began cleaning and sanitizing the flood-damaged basements of qualified residents. 

Bryan Peckinpaugh, a spokesman for DWSD, said Tuesday that 1,519 households are eligible for the service being provided to Detroit's most vulnerable residents. 

About 27,000 households in the city have submitted flood damage claims following the June storms and another 2,000 claims were been filed in response to a second round of heavy rainfall on Friday, Peckinpaugh said. 

The city contracted with seven companies to clean and sanitize basements and bolstered its partnership with Rocket Connections to man a call center with 80 staffers to both take calls from residents with water in their basements and to schedule clean-up services. 

Residents eligible for the city clean-up aid must have a property tax exemption and meet one of the following conditions: older than 65, have a disability or have children 10 and under in the household. 

Within 48 hours of a call, a city building department inspector or the Detroit Health Department will visit the home to verify the conditions and determine what cleaning is necessary.

Andrea Ely's home on Piedmont was inspected on Tuesday. Ely said she's lived there since 1999 and the flooding in the last five to seven years has been "major."

"In 36 months, I’ve had 4 or 5 major issues," she said. "I’ve thrown out so much stuff."

The home of Andrea Ely, right, is inspected by building inspector Monica Sparks, in Detroit, July 20, 2021. Ely's home has flooded due to rain several times.

As of Tuesday morning, 241 houses had been inspected for basement cleaning and sanitizing and another 151 home inspections are scheduled, Peckinpaugh said.

Following the inspection, a contractor will be scheduled to conduct an assessment prior to completing the cleaning and sanitizing. That work, officials said, could take anywhere from a few hours to an entire day depending on the level of damage. 

The clean-up is part of a five-step plan laid out by Duggan to help residents recover from the flood damage and it prioritizes those of low-income. 

DWSD officials have estimate it will take at least three months to clean and sanitize the basements of all eligible homeowners. 

In 2016, the water department cleaned about 400 basements following heavy rains that year in July and August, Peckinpaugh has said. 

Residents can report flood damage or request cleaning services by calling (313) 267-8000 or going to www.detroitmi.gov/waterdamageclaims.