muckraker report

Demise of a Detroit high-rise: How out-of-state slumlord neglected low-income residents

Regency Towers CheneAbout this series: In October 2012, I moved into a low-income apartment high-rise on Detroit’s lower east side and began to investigate the treatment of residents, most of whom are seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. Little did I know what I was in for. 

The problems started when the St. Louis owner of the 20-story Regency Towers fired security in January.

Thieves began stealing catalytic converters in broad daylight. Drug dealers, thugs and other troublemakers loitered in the lobby, pulled fire alarms and stole from unsuspecting residents. When residents pleaded with the property manager, Kohner Properties, to bring back security, their response was always the same: “We can’t afford to.”

An overwhelming stench wafts from heaps of garbage and chunks of raw meat strewn across the lawn where the grass is hip-high in many areas.

While residents are deprived of a safe, clean environment, the company is raking in federal tax subsidies for low-income residents and people with disabilities. In the meantime, the company stopped paying its own taxes to the cash-starved city beginning in 2011, leading to its forfeiture in March, Wayne County records show.

Filthy conditions, bed bug infestations and poor air quality are routinely dismissed by the one remaining office manager, who has slammed the office door on tenants and even pounded me with a long, heavy set of keys earlier this month when I asked why she was ignoring residents’ complaints. So furious, she deactivated my electronic keys for the weekend in an illegal effort to keep me out of the building.

“They’re letting the place go,” the maintenance man, Charles Marshall, told me two weeks ago. “I have no supplies left. I can’t make repairs. They even stopped paying me.”

A few hours after the maintenance supervisor overheard Marshall talking to me, the company fired him.

On Friday, the company also terminated the building’s only cleaning person, Lucy, whose frustrations with an increased workload exploded when she discovered someone had stolen the catalytic converter from beneath her car in the middle of the day. Lucy, who was exceedingly sweet and quiet, kicked in three windows and tore off. The company never repaired the windows, and they remain open to trespass.

“I need to get the hell out of here,” complained Eugene Grissom, who was homeless a few years ago and said he’d prefer the streets to the bed bugs and other problems in the apartment. “These people are crooks.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • DrPlas

    This story only gets 9 comments and story on 3 dogs getting shot gets 90 comments. Nice….

  • dirtydog1776

    In a market economy, businesses have to compete for business and work hard to find and keep customers and make a profit. In today’s economy, Federal subsidies ensure a profit without effort. The answer is simple…..end subsidies and handouts. Companies like this will go out of business and the building will be taken over by someone who is willing to satisfy the demand of customers. Also, a good question to ask is why a business, especially in Detroit, can operate for so long, without paying their taxes. Give such businesses a few warnings over a few months, then repossess and then sell to someone who will run it properly. ( I won’t get into the problem of the high taxes in Detroit and how citizens are screwed by the city.)

  • Mystique

    The comment section has some investigative work on the landlords. Try doing a joint piece with the St. Louis newspaper and shame this guy into fixing the issues. http://detroit.curbed.com/archives/2013/05/regency-tower-said-to-be-overwhelmingly-dangerous-stinky.php#reader_comments

  • Diana

    When I lived at a badly managed downtown building a few years back, the residents got fed up with code violations and lack of maintenance. We discussed opening an escrow account where we’d deposit rent money until the landlord repaired the building. Luckily, the landlord got the message and we didn’t have to resort to that. It’s one legal step these tenants can take. Maybe there’s a lawyer who could explain the process to them?

  • Angie Bee

    Steve, I was looking at apartments last summer. I walked into this place, was shown to the resident mgr office. Someone, a young Caucasian lady, very nice, simply said, let me grab a key and show you a unit. We walked to the elevator, and I was already leery from walking in the door. But was going to go along anyway. Well the elevator took forever! She smiled at me while we waited. The elevator arrived, some characters exited and I looked at her and said as politely as I could muster, “you know, never mind”. I don’t need to see a unit. She said “really?” I said yes, thanks but no thanks, turned on my heel and bolted for my car, never to return.

  • http://www.facebook.com/norbert.kelsey Norbert J Kelsey

    steve neavling… a real repotrer would have identified the maintenance supervisor and the big wig in st louis. I understand wayne state has journalism 101 classes. cam i send you an application.?

  • Jay Lehrer

    Kohner Properties’ web site says: “Daily maintenance and upkeep are not just a continuous focus but a passion for every one on the Kohner team.” The St. Louis media need to be made aware of their neglect of Regency Towers, so that the company can be shamed in its home town.

    • http://www.facebook.com/babymonsters Abigail Shah

      Unfortunately Kohner properties is responsible for the problems with Regency Towers. They are the slumlords.

  • bebow

    The slumlords in Detroit are incredible. In the neighborhoods, they don’t even bother removing the previous tenant’s garbage before moving in the next set. They don’t pay their taxes or settle up with DWSD. I am particularly hot about DWSD allowing slumlords to avoid paying for their tenants’ usage, including illegal usage, by simply informing the utility that new tenants are in residence.

    • Steve Neavling

      Bebow, if you know of any slumlords, feel free to let us know. We’re going to investigate slumlords for the next month. My email is sneavling@gmail.com. Thanks for your always insightful comments.