Order halting ‘illegal’ foreclosure evictions expires

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News
  • 18 families sued the Wayne County treasurer and several Metro Detroit cities involved in the sales.
  • The Wayne County residents say their homes were illegally tax foreclosed on and sold to developers.
  • The U.S. district judge, who had granted a 14-day stay, questioned her jurisdiction in the cases.
  • The developers’ lawyers said Wednesday they were not sure if they would proceed with the evictions.

A temporary restraining order stopping the eviction of four Metro Detroit families was allowed to expire Wednesday, despite pleas that the homes were illegally tax foreclosed and sold to developers.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy on Wednesday declined the families’ request that she extend the order against the developers by issuing a preliminary injunction. Levy questioned whether she had jurisdiction over the lawsuit, which involved claims of a botched foreclosure process typically heard in state court.

“I am not convinced of the likelihood of success at this point,” Levy said, who issued the original 14-day temporary restraining order late last month. “I have to simply say I don’t have the legal authority to issue the order you are seeking.”

The case involves 18 families who sued the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office and several Metro Detroit cities in U.S. District Court late last month, arguing their properties were foreclosed on illegally. Several Wayne County suburbs acquired the properties this summer, before the annual foreclosure auction, and resold them to developers for rehab.

The families’ lawyer, Tarek Baydoun, alleges the developers’ contracts were sweetheart deals that allowed them to cherry-pick properties for pennies on the dollar. City officials dispute the allegations and say the program was aimed at preventing absentee landlords from buying the foreclosures at auction.

Levy issued a temporary restraining order stopping potential evictions of three of the 18 families on Dec. 30 because eviction notices had not been filed against them in local courts. On Wednesday, lawyers clarified that order covered four families.

Lawyers for the developers said Wednesday that they were not sure if their clients would proceed with the evictions of the four families. Two live in Garden City, the others in Redford Township and Lincoln Park.

The homeowners acknowledged owing thousands in back taxes, but said they were on payment plans with the county where officials led them to believe they had time to save the homes before the fall auction. Baydoun told the judge he has evidence his clients were “deceived and denied notice,” citing required mailings never got to homeowners and site visits were never conducted.

But county officials argued the homeowners were properly notified and had several chances to save their homes.

“What we are guilty of is following the law,” said county attorney James Berry. “We are not required to chase down people.”

The lawsuit is pending and the county has filed a motion to dismiss the case.