DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Detroit’s anti-blight efforts are turning in part to vacant, dilapidated business properties such as apartment buildings.

City lawyers have been taking dozens of property owners to court to get them to either fix up or demolish buildings, the Detroit Free Press reported. A team of six lawyers in Detroit’s Law Department brought more than 50 lawsuits in Wayne County Circuit Court against commercial property owners in the last nine months.

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Properties involved include a large, dilapidated apartment complex on the city’s west side, a downtown high-rise and a two-family duplex near Detroit’s Indian Village neighborhood. The city’s corporation counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell said property owners are being put on notice.

“We’re filing two to three cases a week now, and we’re ramping up,” Hollowell said. Many of the property owners live outside Detroit and even out of state “and have felt for too long that they could let the properties deteriorate without consequence. Clearly those days are over.”

The city has worked for years to eradicate blight, and thousands of vacant homes and businesses have been razed. A survey last year showed more than 40,000 structures in Detroit needed demolition. Another 38,000 had indications of blight and could be demolished.

Vacant and blighted homes outnumber empty or crumbling business spaces, but the fight against commercial blight is another challenge. The survey found that more than 5,400 blighted properties were vacant commercial, civic and church properties.

The city sued property owner Ralph Sachs last summer over the Park Avenue Building in downtown, court records show. The suit was settled, “and we’re taking steps to comply with what the city wanted us to do,” Sachs’ lawyer, Paul Swanson, said.

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Detroit emerged from Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in December. Hollowell noted that the bankruptcy plan of adjustment set aside quality-of-life money for his department to hire additional lawyers to tackle the commercial side of blight.

The focus on vacant commercial properties parallels the effort by the city to begin the foreclosure process as soon as Tuesday night on Wayne County residents who failed to pay what they owe or make payment arrangements by the time the Treasurer’s Office closed at 5:30 p.m.

It was a tough day, but it’s be worth the hassle, decided one Detroit woman: “We want to keep our property, so we have to do what we have to do,” she said.

Of the roughly 800,000 properties in Wayne County, at one point nearly 75,000 were headed for foreclosure, according to officials. More than 60,000 of the county’s 76,000 foreclosed properties are in Detroit, threatening neighborhoods hard hit by the national mortgage crisis; and about $326 million in taxes, interest and fees are owed on the foreclosed homes, lots and other buildings in Detroit.

 

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