'Gentleman's agreement:' Is Detroit poised to let another slumlord slide?

July 03, 2020, 10:23 AM by  Violet Ikonomova

After the city of Detroit last year forgave a notorious landlord of $2 million in blight and other debts, it promised to do better. In February, it filed suit against the landlord, Michael Kelly, and two others who each owned hundreds of dilapidated properties. The suit was a warning shot to "slumlords" and "speculators" doing business in the city: milk Detroit for profit, and your properties may get seized.

The suit came after public outcry over the sweet deal afforded to Kelly, uncovered by WXYZ in a story that juxtaposed the city's leniancy with the unsafe conditions at the homes he rents to Detroiters. Now, six months later, a look by the station into how the new accountability effort is taking shape has found more of the same. 

The city has dropped the suit against one of the three landlords, saying they thought he was someone who could get his properties up to code. The basis for this assumption? Landlord Salameh Jaser showed the city a photobook of eight to 10 rehabbed homes. He owns more than 350.

The city said it was "convinced" Jaser would do right, even though WXYZ reports he failed to meet other requirements laid out for him before the suit. His sketchy track record includes failing to meet a promise to bring 10 of his properties up to code per month. In 8 months, he only got four up to code. He also only did about half of the lead inspections required of him — checks to ensure Detroit renters will not get poisoned.

Then there was the way the city dropped the suit. It wanted Jaser to meet certain terms in exchange for the dismissal, but it didn't even have him agree to them in writing until after the suit was dropped and after WXYZ inquired. City attorney Lawrence Garcia called this a "gentleman's agreement."

So, another gentleman's agreement in Detroit, a city where — as one small business owner once said — "there never have been the same rules ... for the wealthy than the others — ever." 

The station spoke to U of M associate professor and housing expert Joshua Akers on the latest round of leniency for a large-scale landlord with dangerous properties: 

"The people who actually bear the brunt of it are the people who live around these houses, the people who live in these houses, and then the public at large who has to pay to remediate or demolish these houses."

Read more:  WXYZ

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