MONDAY, March 27 — Calling Code Enforcement’s actions on red-tagged properties in the city “a failure,” Lansing City Councilmember Patricia Spitzley demanded a special Committee of the Whole meeting next week to grill city officials over what other councilmembers call a red-tag housing crisis.
Spitzley said she was spurred into action after watching the city boot residents of the Holmes Apartments, 2222 W. Holmes Rd., out of their complex last week. The property was red-tagged after residents complained about conditions, including holes in the between apartments allowing residents to look into each others’ apartments.
Property owners moved the tenants displaced to a second apartment complex last week, but those apartments, located at 1317 E. Kalamazoo St., were pink-tagged. A red tag means a property is potentially hazardous and cannot be resided in. A pink tag means a property is not registered as a rental and is not available for rental.
“Now, the owner bears a huge responsibility, but the City of Lansing is, in my opinion, also responsible,” Spitzley said. “Our code enforcement system is broken. We have red tags and pink tags out there that have not had follow-up inspections. We have homes that have applied for rental inspections that have not had follow-up inspections, which have resulted in some serious issues.”
The two properties in question are owned by a real estate consortium based on S. Pennsylvania Ave. The consortium operates eight several limited liability corporations running 21 apartment complexes in Lansing. That’s 666 individual apartment units run by the group. The group began grabbing properties in late 2020. The empire amassed $17,687,920 in real estate purchases in Lansing by this year, according to public property records that recorded the sale prices.
First Ward Councilman Ryan Kost said the lack of enforcement around re-tag properties had become a “crisis” for the city and its residents.
“This needs to play out in public, before the public,” he said. “We need to walk out of that special meeting with an understanding of what is wrong, why it is wrong and how we’re going to fix it. We need to make sure everybody is on the same page.”
For Spitzley the issue of failed follow-up inspections is personal. Her grandchildren spend some of their nonschool hours with a babysitter. The babysitter moved into a property that required improvements before it could have a rental certification. One of the issues cited in the inspection, missing smoke detectors in the basement. Weeks later, the house was lost in a fire that started in the basement.
“I'm beyond concerned,” Spitzley said. “It pisses me off.”
Spitzley said she wants Barb Kimmel, the interim director of the Economic Development and Planning Department for the city, as well as Joe McDonald, the city’s Housing Ombudsman in the Department of Human Relations and Community Service.
Ongoing investigations by the City Pulse have revealed red-tagged properties where residents are living, in violation of city housing laws. Follow-up investigations by the Code Enforcement Office found 13 red-tagged properties were being inhabited in violation of housing codes.
“We know that this can have a massive impact on the lives of those residents, so we are working through this with that in mind,” said Mayoral spokesperson Scott Bean. “And we are well aware that there are some bad actors out there taking advantage of people by illegally renting dwellings that have been red-tagged. This needs to end and those landlords need to be held accountable.”
That crackdown, however, is impacting people who have been living in red-tagged properties. Last week, City Pulse highlighted Steven Antes' struggles with finding replacement housing after being charged with a criminal misdemeanor for trespassing in a red-tagged property in which he had been living.
The issue of red-tagged properties and oversight of rentals has been gaining more attention this year. An investigation by City Pulse in 2015 revealed a lack of staffing and outdated technology hampered the city’s ability to inspect and monitor all the rental properties in the city. In 2023, the city’s Code Enforcement Department was in a spasm of change again. Scott Sanford, who managed the inspectors, retired unexpectedly two weeks ago from the city.
That retirement followed just weeks after Brian McGrain resigned from the city as the director of the Economic Development and Planning Department. He left to take a post in Okemos with a non-profit agency.
“The Department of Economic Development & Planning and the Code Enforcement office are currently undergoing a comprehensive operational review,” said Scott Bean. “The administration is aware of the lack of follow-up in some red tag monitoring situations and will be looking at all our options to reform the Code Enforcement office. Going forward we intend to enact a system to ensure red tag monitoring is more strictly enforced.”
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