Monday, September 14, 2009

Highland Towers in the Dark for 11 Days

Highland Towers in the dark

Asthmatics, diabetics, seniors suffer

By Diane Bukowski
Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Over 150 residents of the Highland Towers at 12850 Woodward in Highland Park remain without power after DTE Energy, a company with $13.8 million in sales last year and $9.8 billion in assets, cut it off Aug. 31.

Highland Towers LLC owns the building, according to Wayne County deed records.

Tenants said they received no advance notice of the shut-off.

Many are asthmatics who need electric nebulizers, diabetics whose insulin has gone bad in shut-off refrigerators, and seniors who can’t climb completely darkened stairwells with the elevators shut down. Many younger tenants were helping the seniors get food and other supplies.

“My eight-year-old daughter is traumatized,” said tenant Latanya Lloyd. “She and I have chronic asthma and need to use our nebulizer when inhalers don’t do the job. We have paid our rent, but the landlord up and disappeared. He knew before it happened, because he stopped coming every day and only showed up to collect rents.”

Senior Gene Weiss, who has lived in the building for 30 years, said she has diabetes, heart trouble, high blood pressure, three broken ribs, is blind in one eye, and just got out of rehabilitation after a hip replacement.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in this building since I’ve lived here, and we’ve had rent strikes over bad conditions before,” said Weiss. “The landlord just walked away with our money.”

Taron Smith lives there with his 50-year-old father, and Jonathan Moses lives with his fiancee, both of whom are diabetic. They reported that the insulin in their refrigerators had gone bad.

They all participated in demonstrations at DTE’s downtown Detroit headquarters Aug. 27 and 28, organized by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs, and met with DTE representative Mike Wood, to no avail.

“DTE is obligated under state law to give each tenant an individual 30-day notice of shut-off and immediately restore power to anyone with medical emergencies,” attorney Jerome Goldberg of the Coalition said. “They must pay a fine of $200 a day to each tenant if they violate this policy.”

Sandra Hines of the Coalition said, “This is nothing but an effective and illegal eviction by DTE itself.”

A reporter for Channel Four’s “Ruth to the Rescue” said she had contacted the mayors of Highland Park and Detroit, state legislators, and other officials, to get them to intervene to have the power turned back on, but even their efforts did not dissuade the utility.

Robert Day and other representatives of the Legal Aid and Defender Association interviewed tenants for a possible class action lawsuit and temporary restraining order Aug. 29.

Updated information on their efforts was not available at press time.

On July 16 Vaughn Reed, a laid-off autoworker, and his children Mar’Keisha Reed, 16, DeMarco Owens, 12, and DeMarte Owens, six, died from carbon monoxide poisoning after DTE shut off the utilities at the Reed home despite his bankruptcy filing. Reed was using a generator to power nebulizers for his wife Marquetta Owens and son DeMarco.

“Our heart goes out to the residents of Highland Towers and we do understand the difficult situation they are in,” said DTE spokesman Scott Simons. “We have been working with the building owner to get his bills paid over many years, but he continued to renege on payment plans, and currently owes over $100,000. That left us no other choice. We have sought assistance from United Way and other social service organizations to remedy their situations.”

He claimed the building’s account was “posted” June 17, and that each tenant did receive individual notices in addition to notices posted at the building’s entrance. When informed that the tenants denied this, he said, “Somebody must have been tearing the notices down.”

He said they had no plans to restore power to the building until the bill is paid. Asked how much it would cost DTE to turn the power back on for 30 days to give the tenants time to move, he said that was not a possibility, although DTE earlier extended a deadline for tenants at 59 Seward for 30 days.

Simon also said DTE has many other multi-family units in the city with arrearages that evidently could face the same fate, but would not disclose information regarding any commercial or industrial facilities with past due bills who have not been shut off.

DTE has turned off all residential street lighting in the city of Highland Park which owes the utility.

County tax records for Highland Towers show that a defunct business named RHW Associates, Inc., incorporated in 1995 by Richard Jedwab of Brooklyn, N.Y., owes nearly $200,000 in taxes for the property. DTE said its bills go to 12850 Highland, LLC. Attorney Andrew J. Munro is listed as the agent for the last organization, but had not returned a call for comment before press time.

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