Protest leads to rent resolution for Conrad
By Lisa Brody
After approximately 65 concerned citizens marched outside Birmingham's Baldwin House just before noon on Thursday, November 3, to protest the treatment of longtime city resident and former mayor Dorothy Conrad, who was on the verge of being forced to vacate the facility, the retirement home's attorney settled with her attorney, presenting an updated lease agreement to which she has agreed.
“I'm happy for Dorothy. I'm happy an 88-year-old can stay in her home for the holidays,” said Conrad's attorney, Joe Wloszek of Hirzel Law, PLC.
Conrad, 88, has been in a two-month long standoff with the senior living facility, located at 200 Chester Street in downtown Birmingham, after a September lease renewal was pulled after she questioned a lease section on parking which had been “blurred out,” and on September 17, she received a letter notifying her Baldwin House was not renewing her lease and she had 30 days to vacate. After publicity on her case, Conrad received a new lease agreement, but Wloszek said it included language and a “special provision” which he considered objectionable – and which was not included in other tenant's leases.
“I have a copy of another tenant's lease which was signed just two week's ago, and it was not included,” he said.
The lease which Baldwin House tried to have her sign had a standard non-solicitation clause of, “Baldwin House does not allow solicitation on its premises.” Wloszek said he had no issues there, “but the way they drafted the rest, the language, is the issue.”
Conrad's lease included: “This includes but is not limited to, in person or written communication with Baldwin House residents and/or their family members, including the distribution of written materials in resident mailboxes or under doors.”
While Baldwin House likely wanted Conrad to not form any resident groups, Wloszek noted that the language could prevent her from inviting any neighbors to a Christmas gathering, forming a book club or knitting group, or any other social gathering, which is part of living in a senior living facility.
Mort Meisner, spokesperson for Baldwin House, said in a statement, “Baldwin House Management is perplexed as to why demonstrators were out here this morning. The fact is that Ms. Conrad has had, through her attorney, a lease to sign. A lease that has identical terms as the lease that all other Baldwin House residents are asked to sign. A lease that she was initially presented with back in September. If Ms. Conrad is willing to sign this lease and abide by Baldwin House rules, we encourage her to do so.”
Wloszek said Meisner's statement was factually inaccurate, in that the lease was not identical, it's not the lease she was presented in September, and “Baldwin House counsel admitted to me that Baldwin House does not have any posted rules and regulations at this location, after demanding to be shown them. She only has to abide by her lease terms. It's the only thing she has to abide by.”
By 5:15 p.m., the dispute was settled, with Baldwin House's attorney presenting an updated version of her current lease with a rental rate increase, which Conrad had never disputed. All Baldwin House leases are month-to month. Wloszek said Conrad has signed the agreement.
Earlier, protesters lined up along Martin Street which wound around to Chester Street and around Baldwin House, holding handwritten signs up stating, “Renew her lease,” “No evictions without just cause,” “We stand with Dorothy,” “Mayors for Dorothy,” even two dogs with a sign attached, “Canines for Conrad.” Conrad came out onto her third floor balcony several times to see the protesters which included some past and current local officials.
Cyndi Summers, who said she had been a 20-year neighbor of Conrad's when she lived on the east side of the city in her own home, said she is an admirer of Conrad, and participated in the protest to show her support for Conrad, as well as to “encourage Baldwin House to make amends with Dorothy, residents and Birmingham and to address the mistakes they made with parking, and to fix them, and to promote the idea of adopting a 'right to renew' law in Birmingham for all city renters, like Ann Arbor recently adopted.”
Of concern to Summers and others attending the protest is the month-to-month nature of the leases residents at Baldwin House are made to sign.
In early October, the Ann Arbor City Council adopted a “Right to Renew” ordinance, outlining that landlords will not be permitted to deny a tenant to renew their lease without cause. If they do, they will have to pay the tenant up to two times the current rent to cover the cost of moving.
Conrad has a long history with Baldwin House, having been part of the city commission that worked to established the facility, even facing a recall as mayor in the early 1980's as Birmingham faced charges of racism as there was backlash against its establishment. In 1982, in United States v. City of Birmingham, the Department of Justice sued the city alleging Birmingham had violated the Fair Housing Act by intentional and purposeful racial discrimination. The court case lasted 26 months, with numerous residents, including Conrad, testifying. She remained a longtime city activist.
Fast forward to present day, and after moving into Baldwin House, she and management have continued to spar, notably over her attempts to form a resident's group. Further, Conrad alerted the city of Birmingham to violation of a 1994 agreement between the city and Baldwin House. In his city manager's report included in the city commission packet for Monday, July 25, Tom Markus wrote, “In 1990, the city and Baldwin House entered into an agreement that provided 69 parking spaces free of charge in the Chester structure for the exclusive use of Baldwin House tenants and their guests. Complaints were made that Baldwin House was not only charging residents directly for the use of these City provided parking spaces, but were charging residents almost double ($90) the rate that members of the public pay ($50) for monthly parking permits. In addition, complaints were also made indicating that Baldwin House was allowing employees and contract workers to use the parking spaces for free, which is not what the agreement provided for.”
Markus has directed attorney Mary Kucharek to review the 1990 parking agreement and determine if there has been a breach of contract by Baldwin House, and if so, if legal action is required.
Baldwin House is owned by the Schwartz family of Bloomfield Hills, in a partnership of five brothers and their father, Gregory Schwartz. Gregory Schwartz is chairman of Schwartz Financial Group, a real estate investment company with significant holdings in American House Senior Residences and other real estate assets. Son Joe Schwartz is reportedly the chief investment officer of the seven-location Baldwin House Senior Living group in Michigan. They also own Gregory Schwartz & Co. Investment Advisors in Bloomfield Township, and their website notes the firm is a major investor in American House, which has senior living facilities in five states. Rob Gillette is listed as CEO for the Baldwin House chain. Attempts to reach both members of the Schwartz family and Rob Gilette directly for comment were unsuccessful.