Evictions from flood-damaged Ypsilanti apartments leave residents in limbo

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

When torrential rains ravaged southeast Michigan late last month, James Dauphine and fellow residents at an Ypsilanti apartment complex were shocked to find their homes flooded.

But days later, they had another unwelcome surprise: eviction notices from property managers who deemed their units "uninhabitable."

Local officials have stepped in to help Dauphine and the more than 20 other tenants holed up in hotels as well as fight to keep their apartments. But after more than a week, they aren't sure if any repairs will materialize or the forced relocation is permanent.

The situation facing residents at the Huron Heights and Huron Ridge apartments has prompted lawmakers and local leaders to intervene and seek action.

"We have no idea what’s going on," Dauphine said.

The situation facing residents at the Huron Heights and Huron Ridge apartments has prompted lawmakers and local leaders to intervene and seek action.

After visiting the site over the weekend and learning about the complaints, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell sent a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Tuesday seeking answers from the department on its involvement and how officials plan to work with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority on addressing whether apartment managers followed proper policies in tackling the flood damage.

"I am deeply concerned about what I witnessed firsthand and the alarming stories that continue to be shared with my office," the Dearborn Democrat said in the letter. "The coldness and indifference being shown to these residents during these very challenging times is unacceptable."

Washtenaw County Commissioner Ricky Jefferson, who represents the district that includes the complex, has connected the tenants with legal help while working to keep their plight in the spotlight.

"We’re hoping that something could change to get the residents some assurance on what can happen next so they can feel comfortable," he said. "Right now, they’re not comfortable at all."

Dauphine and other residents received a letter June 28 from Eric Bryan, a regional manager with Van Rooy Properties, which, according to its website, oversees the complex.

According to a copy reviewed by The Detroit News that appears to be from Bryan, the regional manager told them "the water damages are too invasive for general cleanup efforts to solve the problems and a total tear out and replacement will be necessary. In addition, there are serious health and safety risks in the near future for mold growth. This means that you will have to vacate the premises ASAP, and your lease will be dissolved per clause 8 of your lease."

The letter dated June 28 instructed tenants to move their personal belongings by "this coming Friday," adding that managers had arranged for temporary shelter at Pioneer High School through the Red Cross. Bryan also wrote there was "no solid timeline" on gutting the damaged apartments "but it is apparent you will have to find other housing either long term or temporary for several months."

The residents were slated to be refunded for June 25-30 if they had paid that month's rent as well as their security deposit, according to the letter.

Dauphine and other residents objected and connected with Jefferson and state Rep. Ronnie Peterson.

"All of the residents I listened to shared that management did no dwelling inspections of their apartments on Saturday, June 26th or Sunday, June 27th," Jefferson said on Facebook. "There was no proper assessment of determining the full extent of the damage to individual apartments."

Jefferson said he arranged for the county to cover the costs of hotel rooms; an attorney, Troy Tipton, issued a cease-and-desist letter warning against changing residents' locks and violating their rights.

Meanwhile, Dauphine and other tenants complained they were unable to pay their rent online. Screenshots provided to The News showed at least one was credited $117.

Dauphine said he and other tenants also learned their service through DTE Energy had been ordered shut off. 

The complex's managers have not provided answers about the next steps or responded to complaints, he said. "They just want us out."

Huron managers did not respond to attempts to reach them by phone or email for comment Tuesday night. Bryan did not return a phone call at Van Rooy headquarters.

In her letter Tuesday to HUD, Dingell sought an explanation for issues related to the residents' housing.

She also asked what HUD would do "to ensure Huron Heights and Huron Ridge offers fair and transparent lease agreements for tenants, that requirements for lease agreements do not place excessive burden on tenants, and that these agreements do not infringe on the tenants’ rights or lease obligations."

Gina Rodriguez, a HUD spokeswoman, told The News in an email that the complex is not in its inventory.

She said it appears the apartments were approved as a property under HUD's Low-Income Housing Tax Credit but their initial 15-year compliance period expired.

Katie Bach, communications director at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, told The News in email that "MSHDA no longer finances Huron Heights or Huron Ridge, so there are extremely limited regulatory requirements that we can impose, and none that are specifically related to the recent flooding and required moves from the property."

She said the authority's asset management staff checked with the property management company Wednesday and learned "they have been communicating with local service agencies and Ypsilanti Township to help individuals and families find alternative housing and that no one has been threatened with eviction, locks have not been changed, and no one has been denied apartment access or the ability to pay rent. While there was a power outage at the site on July 3 caused by DTE’s work on the grid, the management company said there have been no service interruptions to anyone's utilities."

As the crisis lingers another week, Dauphine, his wife and their three children have quickly exhausted Red Cross aid for food and wonder how long they can dip into their savings to cover other costs while staying in a hotel.

The family also fears the home they have lived in for 11 years is a loss if nothing is immediately resolved.

"These are our homes, and for them to treat us this way, it’s unconscionable," he said.