When 5 p.m. arrives, Steven Antes, 56, escorts his dog, King, to his Jeep. The back seat is folded down, and the cargo area is full of blankets.
That’s where he and King have spent every night since he was cited on Feb. 25 for trespassing by living in a red-tagged property on Tenny Street on Lansing’s south side that Antes has been renting. Antes and King spend their days in the house but move out at night to lower the risk of being caught living there illegally.
Antes said he is trying to find other housing, but a complication is that he is scheduled for major surgery this week. He doesn’t know where he will be recuperating.
On April 4, he is due to appear in 54-A District Court on the misdemeanor charge of illegally occupying a red-tagged property. He faces up to 93 days in jail and up to a $500 fine if found guilty.
That’s happening even though Mayor Andy Schor said on Feb. 27 that residents such as Antes would not face prosecution as the city tackles the problem of red-tagged residences being occupied. However, city spokesperson Scott Bean amended the mayor’s position to say tenants could face consequences if they knew their properties were red-tagged.
Red-tagged properties are considered unfit for occupancy for a range of issues, from not being registered as a rental to faulty furnaces and other serious safety problems. In February, a fire engulfed a red-tagged rental house while the occupants were walking their dog.
Why is Antes facing prosecution on top of facing major surgery and homelessness?
“We would review the police report and look at all the facts and circumstances,” Lansing City Attorney Jim Smiertka said Tuesday about the Antes case. “If the police report acknowledges the tenant had no knowledge of the red tag, we would decline to prosecute.”
He said his staff looked at Antes’ case. “It was our conclusion based on what we have seen that we needed to move forward with this one.”
Bean said city officials have replaced the red tag on the property eight times in the last “4+ years.” No one was ever charged for removing the tags because it was unclear who was doing it, he said.
Antes said he never removed the red tags. Instead, he would call property owner Ryan McDonell, who he said would tell him, “Don’t worry about it. Everything’s taken care of.” The red tag would disappear and Antes said he believed the conflict with the city inspectors was handled.
Smiertka said that information would be something he would have to review, but it certainly could impact criminal proceedings against a tenant.
“If they were being misled, that’s something entirely different,” he said.
When he started renting the property in early 2021, he was unaware it had been red-tagged beginning in 2018, he said. That’s possible, given the city’s documented lack of enforcement of occupied red-tagged properties until recently and also the propensity of some landlords to tear off red tags and rent properties illegally.
Antes said his deal with McDonell was that his rent was part of his pay for performing handyman services on McDonell’s properties in northern Michigan and his work with a business that was located in Logan Square liquidating truckloads of returned goods from major retailers. His rent was $600 a month for the property.
The two had a falling out, leading the two to part ways.
Antes, whose major surgery is Thursday, still has not found a place to live. Local homeless agencies have thus far been unable to assist him, although he was to meet with Advent House staff on Tuesday. Most emergency housing funds for the homeless are reserved for women with children.
On Monday, McDonell said the people living in his red-tagged properties — he has at least one other — were “squatters” and didn’t have leases. He referred questions to attorney Fred Blackmond, who he said represented him. Blackmond said he has not been retained by McDonell on any matter but a pending criminal stalking charge in 55th District Court.
As the state rolled out the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program — or CERA — McDonell contacted Antes. He encouraged him to file for back-due rent from the program. Antes’ application was approved, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority issued the payments directly to Haven Homesteads, the limited liaibility company through which McDonell operates his rental business.
McDonell received $10,500 for rental arrears and $1,500 in future rent for Antes’ home. That payment was mailed on Jan. 7, 2022, according to an email notifying Antes.
Antes has not paid rent since the CERA dollars came through.
But despite his claim that Antes is squatting, McDonell has not sought an eviction in 54-A District Court. Antes claimed he has spent thousands of dollars repairing the home. City records show plumbing repairs were approved on March 2, 2023. The only thing left for the city is for McDonell to schedule and pay for a rental inspection on the property. However, Ingham County Treasurer Alan Fox said Monday that Haven Homesteads LLC owed a combined $11,292.21 in 2022 taxes for the company’s four rental properties in Lansing. Property owners who owe the city money cannot register a property as a rental.
Moreover, Bean said the company has been charged a combined $10,650 in red-tag monitoring fees for all four properties, part of which has gone unpaid since 2021. The city assesses landlords a monitoring fee of $150 a month per property when they are red-tagged.
Katie Bach, a spokesperson for the Michigan State Housing Development Agency, said that when City Pulse provided her with the information related to Antes’ case, the situation was “immediately” turned over to investigators for the department.
“We immediately opened an investigation and assigned a fraud investigator to the case,” Bach emailed last week.
According to CERA's website, federal dollars were supposed to be distributed to landlords who followed local ordinances and laws, such as Lansing’s housing ordinance.
Said Bach, “We take allegations of fraud seriously.”
Support City Pulse - Donate Today!
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here