The city of Kentwood is taking a metro Detroit developer to court over multiple safety issues at its residential properties.
Ashton Woods Apartments in Kentwood is the latest in a string of ordinance violations the city has knocked against Group Five Management Company. The company is based in Farmington Hills and manages several apartment communities within Kentwood.
While conducting an Aug. 13 inspection to renew the rental certification for Ashton Woods, city inspectors reported several fire hazards at the property.
According to the inspection report, many HVAC closets did not have a drywall lid, posing a significant fire risk. Most HVAC closets also had mold on the drywall, posing the risk of illness to tenants.
Group Five failed to meet a deadline of Sept. 19 to have repairs completed, so the city took the company to court to hopefully speed up the process.
Group Five has had prior legal issues with its Kentwood properties, according to city documents. Kentwood District Judge William Kelly scheduled the August inspection of Ashton Woods in July, the same time Kentwood also had Group Five in court for two of its other Kentwood properties, Walnut Hills and Hunters Ridge.
Kentwood Director of Inspections Tim Bradshaw said there were significant issues for the latter two Group Five properties. After the Ashton Woods inspection, Bradshaw issued a fine to Group Five for 22 noncompliant units.
City inspectors in the Ashton Woods report expressed concern that if a fire were to break out from one of the furnaces, it could quickly spread throughout the whole building because of the additional drywall disrepair.
“As we were going through all these units, we made it abundantly clear to the property management that this is our top priority,” Bradshaw said.
At a Sept. 19 court hearing, a month after the fine was issued, Group Five had little to report on the issue and the drywall lids still were not installed. Bradshaw said he testified to Kelly he was concerned the issue had gone on for too long. By Oct. 17, Group Five reported it had taken care of approximately 50 of its 200 units at Ashton Woods.
Most recently, at a Nov. 15 hearing, Group Five reported it was almost halfway done with replacing all HVAC units in the complex.
While the HVAC units were city inspectors’ biggest concern, Bradshaw noted several other discrepancies, including missing siding on the exteriors, potential leaks, uncleaned gutters and rotten wood rails on balconies.
The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 20 for the city to recoup the costs for inspection of Group Five properties.
Danielle Dawson, an attorney with Bloom Sluggett PC representing the city of Kentwood, said Kelly also set Dec. 20 as a deadline for Group Five to make several improvements to Breton Court Apartments in Kentwood.
“There are several items that they know they have to accomplish, and when we go back to court, they either have to say yes that’s complete or explain why it’s not,” Dawson said. “Hopefully, at this hearing, the judge will issue an order that will set forth the re-inspection fees, attorney’s fees and any other fees that he deems appropriate.”
Bradshaw said the city has incurred almost $42,000 in inspection costs associated with Group Five.
The city of Kentwood changed its rental inspection ordinance in 2017, partly because of prior issues with Group Five properties. Bradshaw said the company would regularly be flagged for discrepancies and fail to follow through with necessary repairs. Without changes to the ordinance, Kentwood didn’t have enough “teeth” to enforce compliance.
“This property management group is the worst that I’ve encountered so far,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw added prior to the city’s ordinance change, there was about 55% compliance on rental property inspections. Two years later, he said compliance jumped to 91%.
“It is making a difference in the vast majority of properties,” Bradshaw said. “I also want to note the vast majority of our landlords take good care of their properties … but the ones that aren’t take a lot more time to inspect and follow up on.”
Group Five Management did not respond to requests for interview at press time.