Monday, September 14, 2009

DTE, Apartment Owners Ordered to Restore Electricity at Highland Towers

DTE, Apartment Owners To Settle Case

Documents Show Owner Of Building Failed To Pay Bills

6:54 pm EDT September 11, 2009

DETROIT -- The lights have been ordered back on at a Highland Park apartment complex, where tenants have been forced to live in the dark for nearly two weeks.

The move came after a court hearing Friday between the owners of the Highland Park Towers and representatives from DTE Energy.

The decision was made for DTE to turn the power temporarily for a week so the residents can move out of the building.

"That's what the law requires," said Michelle Hall-Edwards of the Legal Aid & Defenders. "That they give tenants individual notices (of a power shut off)."

The court hearing determined that the landlord and DTE had not given the tenants proper notice.

"I think that's awful, those utilities have made millions of dollars. You're not gonna lose any more than what you've already lost. It's not going to hurt (DTE) anymore," said tenant Darwin Beatty.

Beatty said he and many of the other tenants have lived at the complex for more than 30 years.

"We've all lost our food and everything else," Beatty said. "We're just thankful that it wasn't cold and it wasn't too hot outside, or we really would have felt it."

The fight started after residents were forced to live in the towers without electricity for more than a week.

A DTE spokesman said the company cut the power to the Highland Park Towers Aug. 31 after the owner of the building failed to pay the energy company tens of thousands of dollars even though the residents are all up to date on their bills.

The residents said they continue to pay their bills, but the owner of the property is not paying the building's bills and now they are stuck in the middle of a dispute with the owner and an energy company.

The Legal Aid and Defender Association has taken up representing the tower residents.

"We have many disabled people in the building who are on machines that require that has to be plugged in to the electricity (to work)," said Hall-Edwards. "Obviously, it's a very dangerous condition."

A coalition that works to stop gas and electric shutoffs called "Moratorium Now!" arranged a meeting last Friday between people who live in the apartments and DTE.

The director of revenue management with DTE, David Johnson, had said the company would not restore power, but will try to get help for residents.

"This is truly an unfortunate situation," Johnson said. "We've contacted our community partners, like Department of Human Services, as well as the United Way 211, and they are actually out there today working with these families."

According to documents obtained by Local 4, the person listed as the owner of the property is in bankruptcy and the status of the property is unclear.

Calls to the property owner's attorney were not immediately returned.

Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp said there was a pending real estate deal where a new owner would take ownership of the building.

DTE said the owner of the building would have to pay a "substantial" amount of money before it will restore power to the building.

"I have been fed up but if you don't pay your rent, where can you go, because it's not that easy to find an apartment that quick," said Highland Park Towers tenant Brenda Williams.

The residents are forced to make the best of a bad situation, removing all the contents of their refrigerators and grilling outside while wondering where to go next.

Latonya Lloyd said she was forced to move her 8-year-old daughter Mikeia to her mother in-law's home.

"All our food is completely gone, she has nowhere to sleep; we've been crammed in my mother-in-law's house, but everything we have is right here and we can't be here," said Lloyd.

But Lloyd said she considers herself lucky because some people have nowhere to go, like 88-year-old Gene Weiss.

"Everybody in my family is dead so I can't go back home or to family, so I'm stuck," said Weiss, who has lived in the apartments for more than 30 years.

Some residents fear for their safety because people who have not been able to find another place to stay have been using candles at night, but the smoke detector doesn't work.

"We need some help over here," said resident Taron Smith.

Residents said they are pleased with the temporary fix, but it doesn't solve the problem.

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