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Detroit family gets temporary reprieve from eviction; police involvement raises questions

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A Detroit family facing eviction after apparently being scammed by a fake landlord has been given a reprieve of sorts.

The group Detroit Eviction Defense announced Thursday that the family will be given at least 30 days before moving out, plus additional assistance from the city of Detroit.

Detroit Eviction Defense member and eviction lawyer Joe McGuire said the Bohanen family—a grandmother, daughter, and her 5-year-old child—had a lease to rent the home, but apparently it was not with the property’s real owner. The alleged true owner sought assistance from Detroit Police to help remove the family.

McGuire said there are multiple problems with this scenario. The first is that police were involved in the attempted removal, despite the fact that the Detroit Police Department’s stated policy is not to get involved in evictions. Officers visited the Bohanens several times to check on their legal right to be in the home, at one point informing them that their lease was fraudulent and they would have to leave within days. McGuire said this was despite the lack of court order, or any sort of court proceedings that an eviction legally requires.

McGuire noted that police were also involved in negotiations with the city to find accommodations for the Bohanens, adding to the confusion around their stated policy. “At the same time that the Detroit Police Department was negotiating through the city with us saying, ‘OK, we'll give them two days, OK, we'll give them 30 days.’ So which is it?" McGuire asked.

“We're going to continue this fight to make sure that no police evictions happen in this city. It should not be happening. Everything should go through the courts.

Detroit Police Detective Les Gilbert on Thursday again denied that the department gets involved in evictions. “We do not do evictions. That’s done through the courts. That’s a court matter,” Gilbert said.

As for the Bohanens, Gilbert said officers were investigating a criminal complaint involving alleged squatting on the property. “Which is illegal,” Gilbert said. “There was a call made, and the officers went out and talked to the individuals, and took the information from both parties. And it’s been an ongoing investigation. It’s not an eviction.”

But advocates like McGuire say Detroit Police have repeatedly violated their stated policy, taking the word of sometimes-unscrupulous landlords who claim their tenants are squatters. And McGuire said it’s become more of a problem during the pandemic.

“Landlords are impatient” with eviction moratoriums and slowed-down court proceedings, McGuire said. “We have seen an uptick in illegal evictions of all kinds, either through the police or just the landlord doing it themselves. And so it’s much too common.”

As for the Bohanens, in addition to the 30-day grace period, the city has offered them assistance with moving and storage costs, and to put them up in a hotel temporarily if needed. McGuire said that Detroit Eviction Defense will follow up to ensure those promises are kept, and is pushing for the property’s real owner to continue renting to the family. The Bohanen family was paying rent every month to live in this house, so there's no reason why the owner shouldn't be able to rent the house to them as well,” he said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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