Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sarah Taylor made my day

My old landlord made the headlines again yesterday in this front page article in the Ann Arbor News. Basically, Dale Newman's houses were declared uninhabitable because of his criminal fraudulence. The good news is, I will be getting my money back after all.

I know this because Sarah, whose photograph appears at the top of the article, received my writ for garnishment last week. When she figured out what it was, she figured the new owner of the property would be able to help me with my situation.

I'd like to paste the full text of the article here, since MLive is a decrepit system that will take it offline in 14 days or so.

Student apartment houses shut down by city
Posted by Staff Reporter David Gershman August 28, 2007 08:55AM

Ann Arbor officials have declared five apartment houses in predominantly student neighborhoods to be uninhabitable, forcing University of Michigan students like Sarah Taylor to look for new places to live just as the fall term is about to begin.

"It's horrible," said Taylor, 26, an out-of-state student entering a graduate program at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. "It's move-in weekend. There's nothing available. I'm looking at some really dingy apartments around town.

"The reason I moved to Ann Arbor two months ago was exactly to avoid moving this weekend."

Late last week, city officials posted notices on the front doors of five houses - on Lawrence, State, Division and Brown streets - stating that all or a portion of them are uninhabitable because they lack electricity or natural gas, or both.

Three of the houses - 418 and 504 Lawrence St. and 419 N. State St. - are owned by John and Mary Schwartz of Williamston, Mich. The couple bought the houses from Dale Newman of Ann Arbor - two of them last September and the third in July. They agreed Newman would manage each property for a year.

The other two houses are also managed by Newman, a city official said.

On Friday, DTE Energy shut off electricity to two of Schwartz's houses and natural gas to all three because bills were unpaid. Crews also found utility meters had been tampered with, said Scott Simons, a DTE spokesman.

"They were disconnected for non-payment and/or unauthorized use, which means meter-tampering," Simons said. "You can tamper with a meter in a way that it doesn't register usage."

Simons said the amount owed is "significant." He said the name on the utility bills was transferred from Newman to Schwartz in July.

Schwartz said he didn't know there were outstanding bills until Friday, and is trying to get utility service restored quickly. He said he spoke to tenants who are staying with parents who live nearby. He said he will put up any tenant who needs a place to stay in a motel until the apartments can be reoccupied.

"I was not managing these (houses), but I will be," said Schwartz, who is a professor at Michigan State University and also owns rental property in East Lansing
Newman said he managed Schwartz's units. "Apparently I didn't do it very well," he said. He said he did not know why utilities were shut off.

"I don't know everything because it's impossible to micro-manage everything," he said. "I just hire people that I consider competent to do their jobs. When it gets down to problems, I have to deal with the problems, which is what I'm doing now."

Jayne Miller, the city's Community Services Area Administrator, said the other two posted houses that are not owned by the Schwartzes are on Brown Street and South Division Street. Newman also manages those houses, said Miller, who couldn't provide more information.

It's unclear how many tenants lived in the five houses. The houses have mailboxes for multiple people. So far, U-M officials in campus housing and student legal affairs are assisting three students, but they expect to hear from more.

"We're going to help the students find alternative housing," said Linda Hancock Green, director of communications and public relations at the U-M Division of Student Affairs. "The university has a limited number of emergency apartments, but at this point in time they're all full. So if these three students turn into 12 students we'll be looking for other places for them to stay."

Newman said many of the apartments are vacant this time of the year. Tenants are allowed to keep their belongings in the apartments, and can enter them, he said. But they cannot sleep in them, he said.

This was the second time DTE shut off the utilities to Schwartz's houses, Simons said. It also had happened in July, he said.

Taylor said electricity was restored quickly in July to the house at 418 Lawrence St., but natural gas wasn't restored to all of the apartments for about a week. While tenants in the house were waiting for the service, Taylor said, they took turns showering and cooking in one apartment that was vacant. Its door didn't lock, she said.

"It was a pretty huge inconvenience having to coordinate your schedule with a whole bunch of people, having a unit that didn't lock," said Taylor. "It wasn't very safe. Anybody could go in there at any time."

Taylor's basement apartment, which she shares with her boyfriend, costs $680 a month, including utilities.

Wow. It's one thing to be a shady landlord who skirts around security deposits; when you start crossing wires to steal electricity from the house next door and creating a slow gas leak, you reach a new low.

I also couldn't believe the report got ahold of Dale on the phone!

Sarah was as pissed as I am on the phone, and understandably so. She figured since she wasn't writing rent to Christine Dong anymore, my garnishment notice would do her no good. However she also knew that John Schwartz had been trying to make amends around town for people affected by Dale's gross incompetence. She gave me Mr. Schwartz's contact information. I called him and he said he was willing to pay us the amount originally owed (not the doubled amount) plus my court costs. I will gladly take this and be done.

So it sounds like the saga will be over, even though I had to rely on the good faith of two people and not the court system or the landlords for it to work out.


Mike Piotrowski said...

Glad to hear that everything is turning out ok. It sounds like it was a real mess over there. I had some problems with one of my apartments, but it pales in comparison to this. Good luck in your new endeavors in Grand Rapids.

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