Kentwood takes company to court over risky conditions at apts.

Target 8

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — With fire risks in the furnace rooms and moldy drywall, Kentwood officials say they have been worried for months about the conditions at Ashton Woods Apartments.

The owner promises fixes are happening, but the city has gone to court to try to speed them up.

Official documents obtained by Target 8 investigators referred to the furnace closet risk as “a critical life safety issue that cannot be further extended.” Kentwood inspectors called for “court supported condemnation and eviction for any units that have not been completed” by a Nov. 13 court hearing.

No condemnation was ordered but Kentwood District Judge William Kelley gave the operators a final deadline of the end of April to finish the work.

Cory Ward and his wife live in the apartments off of Breton Road SE south of 44th Street. He said he found out they were replacing the furnace in his unit when he tried to turn it on and discovered a contractor had already removed it. He and his wife used a space heater to keep warm for a couple of weeks.

ashton woods apartments risky conditions
Kentwood officials said furnace closets at Ashton Woods Apartments posed a fire risk. (November 2019)

“The mold was so bad they had to take it out, they had to take the furnaces out,” Ward told Target 8 investigators. “They had to re-drywall the interior of where the furnaces go.”

Ward knew about the moldy walls in the furnace closets that city inspectors found last summer and labeled a health risk.

But nobody told him about something that worried inspectors even more: the potential fire hazard they found in many of those furnace closets.

An inspection report said many of the closets didn’t have lids or ceiling on them, “causing a significant fire risk.” Inspectors wrote that if a furnace fire broke out, “it could quickly spread throughout the building due to the drywall disrepair, putting many lives at risk.”

The operator of the apartment complex, Group Five Management Company of suburban Detroit, missed a September deadline to fix the hazards, so city officials took the company to court.

“It should have never got to that point,” Ward said.

A company spokesman told Target 8 investigators that the city inspects the complex every two years and never voiced worry about the furnace rooms until now.  

The fire and health hazards aren’t all inspectors found. Target 8 investigators counted up the needed repairs in city inspection reports for Ashton Woods and three other Kentwood complexes owned by the same company — Walnut Hills, Hunters Ridge and Breton Court — and found more than 700 items including leaks, broken glass, missing smoke detectors and bad siding.

The company says it has three contractors working on repairs.

The most urgent ones have to do with the furnace closets. The company says it has made repairs to more than half of them. As of late last week, there were about 90 to go.

The pace doesn’t sit well with some residents.

“It’s amazing to me how corporations want so much grace for when they’re not doing things the way they’re supposed to, regardless of what the circumstances may be,” Ward said. “And personally you don’t care about my circumstances when it comes to when I’m supposed to give you your money.”

Cold weather has complicated the work. One man showed Target 8 investigators how cold air can blow into his apartment through vents after they removed his furnace.

“Here is a vent that goes straight out there that I had to cover as well,” he pointed out.

The company says it is providing space heaters for apartments while it exchanges the furnaces and will put people up in hotels if temperatures get really cold.

Meanwhile, city officials remain concerned about a potential fire risk.

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