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Wednesday, December 22,2010

Up to code?

One Lansing resident’s struggle to keep his house from being demolished; he wins a round in court

by Andy Balaskovitz

When Dave Glenn bought the small, one-story home at 4613 Donald St. in the Old Everett Neighborhood in south Lansing 20 years ago, the house was nothing but an eyesore. He had “big plans” for a two-stall garage and a two-story addition that could hold his girlfriend’s art studio. He hopes to pass it on to future generations.


But even though Glenn has spent roughly $25,000 on improvements, including the two-story addition and new front siding, the city wants to tear it down.


Glenn, who is not living in the house, says the city is unfairly targeting him and is not giving him a fair chance to appeal its "make safe or demolish" order. He is also challenging the city for not having a citizen appeals board to review code compliance orders.


Now a judge has agreed that Glenn has a case: Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk granted Glenn a preliminary injunction against the city, finding he may have been denied due process. Glenn, who is not a lawyer, represented himself.


The Office of Code Compliance, which first tagged the house unsafe in 2004, says Glenn has had plenty of time to make his case to City Council and turn the house around. It’s been long enough, now it’s time to demolish it, the city contends.


The City Council approved a resolution on Aug. 23 ordering Glenn to make the house safe or it would be demolished in 60 days. In response, Glenn got a temporary restraining order against the city — claiming he did not receive an adequate review process — until he could take the matter to court. That led to last week’s decision by Draganchuk to block the demolition indefinitely.


“You have raised issues that are potentially valid issues,” Draganchuk told Glenn, “most importantly, the denial of due process.”


While she wants to further understand the time-line of what happened between Glenn and the city, Draganchuk is yet to see evidence of a fair appeals process.


“I am at least going to stop anything further from happening on the home until I’m satisfied Mr. Glenn has had the opportunity to be heard,” she said.


“I got what I was looking for — at least for now,” Glenn said.


Assistant City Attorney Billie Jo O’Berry said the city will likely appeal Draganchuk’s decision after Jan. 1.


“The goal of the city is to have safe, habitable homes. There is no intent or desire to tear them down,” she said, speaking on behalf of the city.


O’Berry said that since the house was tagged unsafe for occupation in 2004, Glenn has had plenty of time to make upgrades. Those came in a three-page todo list from the city, including the need for a new roof, walls, a furnace and heat exchange system, pipes, electrical wiring and floor coverings.


“If there was some master plan to tear down Mr. Glenn’s house, it would have happened by now,” she said.


The demolition process is slow and bureaucratic, she added, giving him longer than what’s typically in a make safe or demolish order (30 or 60 days). She said it’s “usually years” between when a house is first tagged and when the demolition occurs. And the City Council allows you to propose how and when you will fix up the house.


“Rarely do you see these move quickly,” O’Berry said. “When we have property owners never do anything affirmative, at some point we need to move ahead procedurally.”


Glenn has even spent a week in jail over this house, after District Court Judge Louise Alderson found him in con tempt in May for not bringing the house up to code. She had ordered him to do so in 2008, but Glenn is appealing that decision.


Glenn says the work has been slow due to personal health issues and a Glenn lack of money. Fees that were piled on by the city for various permits and for clearing or fixing parts of the property didn’t help either, he said.


“They’re treating me like a criminal,” he said.


The Office of Code Compliance also ordered that the utilities be shut off about three weeks ago. Work stopped because there is no electricity, Glenn said.


Despite having $6,000 in property taxes due this month, Glenn said he has spent between $20,000 and $30,000 on materials and other work on the house — on top of “sweat equity.” He put on the new addition and still has plans for a two-car garage.


“I am facing a two-pronged attack by the city and City Council on shaky legal grounds for the ultimate goal of dissuading me from fixing the property,” Glenn sums up his position. “They’re running me off my own land.”


Meanwhile, Glenn still has neighbors who have to look at the house.


Steve Richards, who lives at 300 Potter St. (the property that adjoins Glenn’s), said he’d hate to see the house torn down, but something has to happen to it.


“How many years do you give someone to do something?” Richards asked. “I’d hate to see him lose it, but he can’t keep playing games with the city.”


He added that more progress has been made in the past year than in the past five, albeit “cosmetic” and not “structural.”


“He basically just prettied up the front.


He’s managed to keep the city at bay for a long, long time,” Richards said.


A second neighbor, who asked not to be identified, wondered if City Pulse was doing its Eyesore of the Week on Glenn’s house when first asked about it.


“He needs to demolish it or fix it — he’s been sitting on it for so long,” the neighbor said.


Glenn maintains that health and money issues have kept him from making significant progress on the house — and the city’s pressure isn’t helping. But he senses too that something has got to give.


“I’m just fighting for my life here,” Glenn said. “It’s my last chance.”

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