Housing disputes tend to be between a landlord and a tenant, but in LSA junior Samantha Goldstein’s and her roommates’ case, their disagreement found them allied with their landlord and fighting against their neighbor’s landlord. Now, Goldstein and her landlord, Kaveh Esmael, are speaking out about their neighbor’s abusive proprietor.
Goldstein and her six roommates live in a house on South University Avenue between Walnut and Linden streets, about a five-minute walk from campus. On March 25, Goldstein and her roommates notified Esmael, their landlord, that their water had stopped working and their basement had flooded. Esmael, manager of Ava Holdings LLC, checked on their property. He suspected the problem was larger than just a plumbing issue and called the Ann Arbor Public Works Department.
According to Esmael, an Ann Arbor Public Works employee, whose name Esmael could not remember, responded to the property. The city employee determined the water main line had burst, but it also needed to be replaced due to the 2018 revised Lead and Copper Rule, which was implemented by the state of Michigan as a result of the Flint water crisis in order to establish stricter lead in drinking water protections. Given the issue, the responsibility for fixing the water main line falls on the city of Ann Arbor. The city would need to replace the pipe entirely, but Esmael was told their property would be put on a waiting list. As of two weeks ago, there were still two houses before them on the list that require the same replacement.
According to Esmael and Goldstein, the city employee asked the residents of their neighboring property, a house managed by Carlson Properties, if they paid for their own utilities. If utilities were paid for by the landlord, then the landlord’s permission would be required. However, the residents confirmed they paid for utilities and the city employee received verbal permission from the neighbors to connect Goldstein’s house to their water system. The parties established an agreement that Goldstein and her roommates would pay for the water they used.
For several days, Goldstein said the issue seemed to be resolved, at least until the city could replace the pipe. Their water worked until the Friday before Spring Break. Esmael then received a call from a man who identified himself only as a representative of Carlson Properties. Esmael claims the man berated him, accused him of being a “water thief” and screamed profanities at him. Esmael told the man he could check with the city about the legality of the connection, but the man hung up the call.
Allegedly, the representative from Carlson Properties unhooked Goldstein’s house from his property’s water system and took the spigot with him, leaving Goldstein and her roommates without water again.
“What he did was a gross violation of our rights,” Goldstein said. “Water is a human right. You can’t just turn off somebody’s water — it’s not okay.”
Nursing senior Olivia Hamilton resides in the house next to Goldstein’s, managed by Carlson Properties. Hamilton claims her landlord, Garret Carlson, who manages Carlson Properties, came to their house to fix a maintenance issue they were having when he saw the neighboring property, Goldstein’s house, was connected to his property’s water system. According to Hamilton, Carlson asked her roommate if she knew the neighbors were “stealing their water.” Although Hamilton’s roommate assured Carlson they had spoken with a city employee, Carlson called Esmael from Hamilton’s roommate’s cell phone and then told his tenant to block Esmael’s phone number.
“He basically told my roommate to block that number,” Hamilton said. “I was like, ‘That’s really unacceptable.’ I was like, ‘Why did you even let him use your phone?’ That’s really sketchy.”
Esmael said a landlord has no right to interfere in an agreement between two tenants if the tenants pay for their utilities and the bill is in their names. While Esmael did not verify that the neighboring tenants pay for their own utilities, they verbally confirmed they do to the city employee. Hamilton confirmed to The Daily that she and her roommates pay for their own utilities, and on the website for Carlson Properties, there is a list of rules and regulations that directs all tenants to set up their own utilities.
“He has no right to say anything about the water,” Esmael said.
According to Esmael, he contacted Paul Matthews, Ann Arbor assistant public works manager, and told him about the situation. Matthews then attempted several times to contact Carlson Properties to assure Carlson the connection was legal, but was not able to reach anyone. Esmael said his encounter with Carlson Properties was especially frustrating because instead of contacting him and sorting the situation out, Carlson Properties chose to shut off Goldstein’s water connection.
“This is a human rights violation,” Esmael said. “Water is the first necessity. You can’t use your power, your position or your influence with whoever you are to cut water on any human being.”
Carlson Properties and Garret Carlson did not respond to multiple calls and messages from The Daily.
Goldstein said she wanted to speak up about this experience because Carlson Properties manages several properties in Ann Arbor. Goldstein said seeing the way this company treated her landlord made her concerned for how they may be treating their tenants.
“I think there’s a general feeling on campus that Ann Arbor landlords can kind of drop the ball sometimes, and this is a prime example of landlords abusing their power and walking over students and taking advantage of students,” Goldstein said. “I think it’s important that we call out this bad behavior and keep them accountable.”
Hamilton said she and her roommates have had numerous issues with the property but claim Carlson is not responsive to their concerns. According to Hamilton, their washer and dryer have been broken for seven months. Hamilton claims Carlson was actually at their property the day he accused Esmael of stealing his properties’ water to look at the washer after they had to “bug him” about the issue.
In addition to other issues that Carlson ignored, Hamilton claims they also had a wasp infestation in their home, but Carlson would not address it until she got stung twice in her own bedroom.
“I just sent him several messages — he won’t answer his phone,” Hamilton said. “And when he does come over, he’s just not listening to what you have to say. I don’t know what I should do. I don’t know if there’s someone I can tell, if there’s a housing department I can go to with issues. It’s been frustrating.”
Goldstein said she feels like there is no real system to hold landlords accountable. On the Ann Arbor city website, there is a page with rental housing services, which includes tenant resources. Through that page, Ann Arbor renters can file a complaint about a landlord and check that a rental property has been inspected by the city. However, students may not be aware of this resource. Goldstein said she believes young people, especially students like her, should feel comfortable speaking up for themselves.
“We’re students, we’re here to get an education,” Goldstein said. “Yes, we’re young, but it’s important we advocate for ourselves,” Goldstein said.
Currently, Goldstein’s house is connected to the water system of their other neighbor’s property. Esmael said the exchange with this other landlord was far different than his interaction with Carlson Properties. He said this other landlord volunteered to facilitate the connection because Esmael could not be present when the city returned to hook Goldstein’s house up to their other neighbor’s water system.
Goldstein praised Esmael for sticking up for her and her roommates. Esmael said he has children at the University of Michigan and as a landlord, and he tries to treat his tenants as he hopes other landlords would treat his kids.
“I feel that if I do something wrong to the tenant, then I have no ground to stand if somebody treats my children in an apartment complex like that,” Esmael said. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be mad at people who serve your family and you have no respect or expectations for anyone else.”