DETROIT (WXYZ) — Dozens of Detroiters were out Friday, protesting Munoz Realty on Michigan Avenue. One of those protesting was Derek Grigsby.
“Is it too much to ask to have decent housing? Come on now. I mean capitalism has gone too far,” said Grigsby.
Grigsby is with the group Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs. He said he knows people who have been evicted and reacted to the news evictions overall are on the rise in the city.
“I think it’s horrible. I think any kind of country that can allow this to happen to people regarding housing, it’s just ridiculous,” Grigsby said.
7 Action News reached out to the owner of Munoz Reality. His attorney offered an interview at a later date saying they were unable to talk Friday due to illness.
Tonya Myers Phillips is an attorney. She’s the director of community partnerships and development at the Sugar Law Center in Detroit and the project leader with the Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition fighting for low-income tenants to have a right to legal representation in eviction proceedings. She explained why this is so important.
“It’s a legal proceeding. You have to know the law. You have to know the jargon. You have to know what to do and do it quickly when you go into court. So as a practical matter you need an attorney,” explained Myers Phillips.
She said landlords in Detroit have traditionally had the upper hand because they have representation in over 90% of cases, compared to tenants who before the pandemic, only had representation 4% of the time.
However, that number has improved. Detroit passed a right-to-representation ordinance in May.
“Now that we in Detroit are taking a pioneering step in passing such a law, we need our administration to fund it and get it going to protect Detroiters, especially now,” said Myers Phillips.
Ted Phillips is the executive director of the nonprofit Community Housing Coalition. Among the many services they provide for tenants, they have become one of the primary providers of legal services. Phillips knows how inadequately funded the program is.
“They did a study of Detroit and they concluded it would cost $17 million dollars a year. The city is funding it at two,” Phillips explained.
Additionally, the Detroit Eviction Defense office, which was scheduled to open in October, has yet to open. Advocates are calling on Mayor Duggan to fully fund the ordinance with American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
Phillips provided some advice for tenants having maintenance or landlord issues. He said tenants need to make sure they document as much as they can and report issues to the city.
“Call building and safety. Make a report to the city. Withhold your rent. Doing those kinds of things does trigger the retaliation law as protection. If you’ve complained to the city as in this example, and within 90 days of that complaint the landlord gives you a notice to evict you, well you’re protected,” said Phillips.
Myers Phillips said, show up. 25% of cases are defaults because no one shows up.
“Go to court. You know, don’t count yourself out of the fight. Go to court. And when you go to court say you’d like to have legal representation. Some judges may present that option up front. But if it’s not presented to you, then you ask. You have a right to at least ask for legal representation. And in the city of Detroit, as we said, you now have a right to receive legal representation without charge,” said Myers Phillips.