Dean Cooper and Christian Jacobsen woke up in their apartment in Detroit’s Addison building around 1 a.m. on Christmas morning. There was a sound like “mice crawling in the walls,” Cooper recalled.
Water began leaking from the ceiling and the walls, flooding from an empty rooftop penthouse into the hallway. A neighbor screamed — her ceiling had caved in.
A burst fire suppression system caused severe water damage in the Addison that night. Building management, Cass Avenue Development, described the event as an unpreventable fluke caused by high winds and cold weather. Five residents were displaced from their apartments.
It has been nearly two months and the worst of the flooding damage remains. The elevator is still broken, black mold is now growing on the walls of multiple floors, and floorboards are warped.
The Addison is part of a larger portfolio of properties once owned by Joel Landy, a Midtown real estate investor who specialized in restoring historic buildings and died in August 2020.
After Landy died, his estate passed to a trust run by his lawyer Joseph Kopietz. Residents said there has been a drop in management quality, with work orders and other requests taking longer.
Residents also said they’ve been kept in the dark about the progress of repairs. They don’t know if it’s still safe to live in the Addison or if they’ll be forced to move in order to remediate portions of the building.
Multiple residents told Outlier they’re dismayed that repairs have taken so long and that no one has been compensated for the loss of property. Two spoke anonymously because they didn’t want to upset management. Residents are also unhappy with the inconvenience of living in a building with extensive damage.
Cooper and Jacobsen, 37 and 38 years old, had to move some of their belongings out of closets that sustained water damage, cluttering their apartment.
“We’re not getting any updates,” Cooper said. “We’ve been trying to dry things out because we had no other options. We’ve made it work, but there’s still staining in the walls.”
Without an elevator, they also have to take the stairs to and from their sixth floor apartment.
Kopietz said circuit boards were damaged in the elevator and he’s been waiting for parts to arrive, but still doesn’t know when it will be fixed. He said it was hard to find a water mitigation contractor initially but has been working with one to remove as much moisture as possible.
“I personally began contacting emergency mitigation companies shortly after the event occurred,” Kopietz said, “and was on-site just before 3 a.m. Christmas morning in the hopes that I would be able to get a company out to begin work.”
Kopietz added that the maintenance team put dehumidifiers in place and offered fans to every tenant, but it still took several days to secure a mitigation contractor. The workers have been focusing on removing moisture and assessing damage until the insurance adjuster, who is scheduled to arrive on-site this week to inspect the building, determines how much the insurance company will reimburse.
He expects repairs to cost well over $100,000.
The Addison and the rest of the Landy portfolio is currently for sale. The proceedings had been held up by litigation, but a sale may be finalized by the end of the month after a Feb. 1 court order allowing it to proceed.
‘We won’t find another place like this’
Longtime residents of the 40-unit building at Woodward Avenue and Charlotte Street said Landy was a conscientious landlord who was responsive to maintenance requests.
The Addison is also one of the most affordable market-rate buildings in Midtown, and residents interviewed by Outlier said they couldn’t afford to live anywhere else in the neighborhood. Cooper and Jacobsen pay $1,150 for their two-bedroom apartment while similar listings in the area can go for around $1,600.
“We’re here for the moment until we can find something better,” Cooper said. “But it’s Midtown. We won’t find another place like this.”
Landy invested in Detroit real estate during a time when few others were willing to.
“He was very passionate about historic preservation and ensured that many of the older properties in the Charlotte-Peterboro area were not torn down,” Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc., said by email. “He became an expert in creative financing and in the use of city tax abatements, and was always willing to mentor other small developers working in the area.”
The Addison dates back to 1905.
An inspector with the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department (BSEED) visited the property on Jan. 13 and issued an emergency correction order, citing multiple code violations including water damage to the walls and ceiling on three floors. A follow-up inspection resulted in six tickets totaling $4,250 in fines.
“Elevator parts are said to be on backorder, however, we will continue to issue tickets until compliance is met per city code,” BSEED spokesperson Georgette Johnson said by email.
Residents haven’t been compensated, Kopietz added, because it’s not management’s responsibility — tenants could have gotten renter’s insurance. He said management helped two of the displaced tenants relocate to other units in Landy’s buildings and that the other three were able to find other accommodations on their own.
Kopietz probably won’t foot any of the bill for the repairs. As trustee, he was tasked with Landy’s 22 building portfolio while attempting to sell the properties.
Proceeds from the portfolio’s sale are supposed to go to the Joel Landy Foundation, created prior to Landy’s death to fund causes related to automotive education and historic preservation.
The foundation and trust have been in a bitter legal dispute over who gets control of the portfolio and its sale. Kopietz didn’t want to discuss the litigation with Outlier, but has denied wrongdoing in court records through his lawyer.
Kopietz said the sale is set to close on Feb. 28, but wouldn’t provide the purchase price. Court documents have suggested the amount exceeds $17 million.
The judge ultimately sided with Kopietz, issuing an order on Feb. 1 allowing for the sale of the property to proceed. The buyers are Landy Land LLC, a real estate partnership between Civic Companies and Kevin Kovachevich, founder of the commercial real estate firm District Capital.
George Roberts, co-founder and principal of Civic Companies, confirmed the pending sale but declined to comment.
Kopietz said a purchase agreement was signed with Landy Land in October last year and included standard “risk of loss” provisions, meaning the buyer would be responsible for any damage that occurred between the sale and closing.
“The buyer will be assigned the proceeds from the insurance and be able to finish out the claim,” he said.
Leaving the Addison
Cooper had been working to organize a tenants association with other renters in the Addison to collectively force management to undertake repairs. He and Jacobsen stopped paying rent on Feb. 1 in an attempt to get management to make repairs in their unit.
Cooper was recently banned from the building and management threatened to call the police if he returns. Cooper believes the ban was retaliatory.
The couple have been in their apartment for a little over two years, but Cooper’s name is not on the apartment’s lease, which technically makes him a guest of Jacobsen and gives him fewer legal protections. Kopietz also said that management saw Cooper pulling a fire alarm in front of a BSEED inspector. Cooper said he was only demonstrating that they don’t work.
“I have no issues with a tenants association,” Kopietz said. “I can understand residents’ frustrations and having to live like this.”
Cooper has been sleeping on couches the past week. The ban was the final straw for the couple — they hope to find a new apartment by the end of the month.
But they may have to wait for the elevator to get fixed before they can move all their belongings out.