Warren “BlightBusters” pick up trash and cut the grass of a vacant home on Crestwood Drive, near 11 Mile and Bunert roads.

Warren “BlightBusters” pick up trash and cut the grass of a vacant home on Crestwood Drive, near 11 Mile and Bunert roads.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Warren ‘BlightBusters’ are back in business

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published June 8, 2021

WARREN — Fueled by a resumption of court proceedings, a reduced number of coronavirus cases and the promise of more inspectors, business is booming for Warren’s Department of Property Maintenance Inspection “BlightBusters.”

“We got backlogged because of the pandemic,” Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said. “To get caught up, I asked to hire some temporary property maintenance people to go out and issue tickets and get areas of the city cleaned up that needed help.”

Officials said much of the work is complaint-driven, but that in many cases, complaints end up in resolution that doesn’t require a court hearing.

The process starts with a five-day warning. If the blight goes unaddressed, that turns into a civil infraction adjudicated in “blight court,” or even a misdemeanor that heads to the 37th District Court.

Fines and costs, including the cost of cleanup, can be added to the tax rolls and payment would be required before any property transfer could take place.

Blight inspectors are looking for any ordinance violations, including tall grass and weeds, dilapidated construction, standing water, rodent harborage, piles of junk or other waste.

Fouts said the inspections reach across the entire city, but that areas where there are a large number of rental homes are often a focus.

“We’re ready to hire 25 new inspectors,” Warren Public Service Director Gus Ghanam said. “We have 10. We have more inspectors now than we’ve ever had.

“They go by foot, and they go through looking in the front yard to see if they can see any debris, grass, blight, overgrown bushes, any type of problems. Any type of stuff hanging off the front of the house, any type of blight,” Ghanam said. “Our procedure is, we give them five days to clean up the place, to get it started, and we come back and inspect it five days later, or a week later, and if it’s not taken care of, we can write a ticket.

“If we feel they haven’t made an effort to clean it up, even a little bit, we give them a ticket to go to court. If they don’t clean it up after that, we give it to the BlightBusters and they go and clean it up and we put it on the tax rolls,” Ghanam said.

Robert Scott, the supervisor in the city’s Property Maintenance Division, said the workload is “very heavy” for the BlightBusters right now. One crew member said they can sometimes clean eight or nine properties a day.  

“Our new thing is, we’re searching for compliance. It’s not necessarily about incurring large costs for residents, for some of these older folks,” Scott said. “We want our city to be clean.”

He added, “We’re trying to take a more proactive approach and get this stuff cleaned up quicker. We’ve got the courts working with us. We’ve got a lot of good things going on right now, as the pandemic is fading a little bit, we’re getting back to normal.”

Fouts called the blight sweeps a priority of his administration, but said the effort was hampered by the onset of COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, we couldn’t send our property maintenance employees out to conduct sweeps without potentially exposing them to the virus,” Fouts said in a statement announcing his authorization to hire the new inspectors.

“My priority in this effort is not (to) issue tickets or to punish property owners because many of them have suffered in the economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. My priority is only to keep Warren safe and clean, and we will focus wherever possible on assisting struggling property owners while cleaning up blight,” Fouts said.

The mayor left open the possibility of using federal relief funds, if permissible, to assist in the city’s blight reduction efforts as the pandemic continues to subside.

Questions about blight enforcement can be directed to the mayor’s office at (586) 574-4520. To report blight, call the city’s hotline at (586) 574-4662.