FENTON TWP., Michigan (WNEM) – From the outside, Harbor Landings in Fenton looks like a nice place to put down roots. Drive through the front of the neighborhood and you’ll see solid red brick homes and well-manicured green lawns.
But if you venture a little further, you see new constructions everywhere – and all their accoutrements. This construction has resulted in potholes almost as wide as the road and almost as deep as a tire, unkempt grass, rot, trash and noise.
It got so bad that neighbors kept complaining. While there are homes built by other construction companies in the neighborhood, TV5 used the Freedom of Information Act to access nearly 100 documents belonging to a contractor, Luke Birchmeier, and more than a dozen homes on Harbor Landings Drive owned by his company Cool Attached to Hand Property Development, LLC, built.
Birchmeier and his attorney appeared virtually before the 67th Circuit Court on charges of forgery. Birchmeier pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge.
After several text messages, calls and a visit to his company’s given address, TV5 was able to contact Birchmeier, but he declined to answer questions. His lawyer declined TV5’s request for comment.
“In my opinion, my client has no part in what happened,” Kyle Riem, Birchmeier’s attorney, said in court. The two sat in an empty white room while on Zoom for the court date.
Court records show that Fenton Township accused Birchmeier of forging a certificate of occupancy for a home on Harbor Landings Drive. If convicted of a misdemeanor over the allegedly forged government document, Birchmeier faces up to 90 days in prison, two years probation and a $500 fine.
It is not the first time that Birchmeier is in court. So said his attorney, Judge Mark McCabe.
“I don’t like seeing you and Luke Birchmeier,” Riem said. “It seems I see you with Luke Birchmeier a lot and that’s not something I want to continue.”
Court filings reveal more than a dozen civil cases connected to Birchmeier in recent years. They range from working without a permit to rotting and parking in a handicapped space. But this is the first issue with a certificate of habitability.
“A certificate of occupancy is issued by a municipality and is a document,” said Andrew Concannon, a real estate attorney. “Basically a government document stating that the property is basically habitable.”
Concannon is an attorney with Smith Bovill in Saginaw. He says that occupancy certificates are important to lease or mortgage a home and gave a hypothetical example.
“So let’s say you’re building a 10 unit condo and you need to have eight completed by such and such a date in order to get additional financing for condos nine and ten. Then you need that certificate of occupancy,” Concannon said. “So under certain circumstances it creates incentives for scenarios where people will do anything to try and get one.”
Sue Rotay moved into her apartment two years ago.
“[Luke is] a very bad builder who got away with the damn hell for everything he built,” said Rotay. Speaking to TV5 in their family room, she pointed out that everything she says is wrong with the apartment.
“I feel hurt,” Rotay explained. “I feel very hurt.”
Their problems range from annoying to downright gross. She says two open pipes in her front lawn spewed raw sewage.
“I had to leave my apartment for 10 days because I couldn’t even flush the toilet,” Rotay told TV5. “They had to [dig] Over 19 feet deep in the front yard and it almost reached the roof.”
Rotay says her list goes on: a hole in her floorboard, cracked floor joists, cracks in the cement in her driveway and basement, no insulation in places, doors that don’t seal with their frames, shelves that are installed at an angle, and Accidentally shorted power.
“He put lipstick on a pig,” Rotay said, looking at Birchmeier. “And he will continue to do it and I can’t take it.”
To make matters worse, Rotay is a broker herself.
“I’ve been a real estate agent for 26 years,” Rotay said. “If I had sold that to a customer, I would have lost my license.”
The Harbor Landings resident said she spent about $1,000 on handyman repairs.
“When you walk in a place, you think the cement is good,” Rotay said. “You like the roof. It’s like it’s a new building, you like it.”
TV5 spoke to five other residents in the port area – some of whom refused to speak on camera for fear of offending Birchmeier or their own neighbours. A Harbor Landings resident is suing him for $6,000. All of the residents TV5 spoke to said they were having problems with their homes after moving in.
These problems include floors that aren’t level, glass doors that don’t latch, concrete decks that have been redone multiple times, doors that won’t close through them without a nail, nails holding floorboards in place, cement spatter on doors, and basement steps without one handrail.
“Don’t buy from him. Don’t buy a house he built. Definitely,” said Michelle Oseland, another Harbor Landings resident.
Oseland and her husband moved into the detached home in October 2019. They refused a visit.
“My husband said, ‘This is a new building.’ He looked and everything was great,” Oseland said. “I didn’t choose to.”
She says her problems began with the air conditioner not turning on, then cracks in the sidewalk, carpets peeling off the floor, and damage to the driveway and steps to the front door.
“When we bought it, there weren’t any visible flaws, and some things you don’t find out until you move in and start living in and using the house,” Oseland said, sitting on her couch in the living room. A few minutes later she got up and tugged at an edge of her rug – it was separated from the floor.
She says she tried to reach Birchmeier.
“In the beginning he called me and said, ‘Oh, call this person. Call the electrics.” So I had to do all the follow-up calls myself,” Oseland said.
Oseland said she ended up paying more than $2,000 for insulation and $800 for air conditioning repairs. She knows she will end up having to replace her roof, driveway and sidewalk – thousands of dollars at a cost. In hindsight, she wishes she had gotten that inspection.
“It’s so important that this gets done,” she said. “Because if I had known that, I definitely wouldn’t have bought it.”
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