Detroit Sues City's Three Most Notorious Slumlords

detroit abandoned home
Photo credit (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

DETROIT (WWJ) - The City of Detroit is fighting back against investors who purchase and rent old, dilapidated homes and fail to address peeling lead paint and other hazards that put the health and safety of their tenants at risk.  

The city’s law department on Thursday filed complaints in Wayne County’s 3rd Circuit Court against three of Detroit’s most notorious speculators and slumlords: Steve and Stephen Hagerman, a father and son from West Bloomfield; Michael Kelly, of Grosse Pointe Woods; and Salameh Jaser, of Dearborn.

It's estimated that between the three, they have more than 1,000 blighted properties in the city and have amassed thousands of tickets from city building safety inspectors. 

The city has taken these actions to address the number of speculators who have bought up large portfolios of real estate in Detroit without any intention of occupying or improving the properties they hold. To support the carrying costs of their speculating business, these slumlords rent the properties in deplorable conditions, without obeying the laws on renting, especially those concerning lead clearance, putting children at risk of lead poisoning. In many instances, these slum landlords create sham land contracts in an attempt to avoid the regulations on rental property.  The lawsuit is designed to put an end to that practice. 

"Our lawsuits mark the beginning of a new effort to address the grave danger of lead in Detroit, among other housing related issues," Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in a statement. "They have demonstrated no respect for the safety of the persons living on their land, and their business model presents an unreasonable danger to the renting public in Detroit. Detroit’s citizens deserve better."

In the suits, the city asks the court to declare the business model a public nuisance, compel the owners to properly maintain their properties and prohibit them from directly or indirectly purchasing or controlling additional properties until they come into compliance.

Calling the invest and neglect business model a "danger to the public’s health and safety," Mayor Mike Duggan and the city’s Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair also issued a rare Declaration of Public Nuisance directed at slumlords in the city who put children at risk of lead poisoning by engaging in an “invest and neglect” business model.

"The City of Detroit has a crisis - thousands of children living in the City suffer elevated blood lead levels as a result of living in properties with lead hazards," the declaration reads. "Federal, state and local laws require property owners to take precautions to protect against childhood lead exposure. Many landlords do not comply with these laws, and the failure to abate lead hazards has created this crisis."