Mar. 9—DETROIT — HGTV star Nicole Curtis is at odds with Detroit’s land bank over a house in Islandview that she’s long hoped to restore.
In her new show, “Rehab Addict Rescue,” the Lake Orion native helps Detroit families renovate aging homes. But offscreen, Curtis contends her goal of sinking $500,000 of her own money into revitalizing a rundown property at 451 E. Grand Boulevard has been met with nothing but hurdles and heartache.
Curtis purchased the 1921 foursquare from a private owner for $17,000 in 2017. The next year, she was notified that the Detroit Land Bank Authority actually held the property title.
Failed attempts to reach a mutual agreement for Curtis to rehab the house and court actions ensued, culminating in August with a judgment in the land bank’s favor. Despite efforts over the past month by Curtis’ legal team to reach an agreement on the property, the land bank put the house on the market Feb. 26 for $40,000.
“It eats me up because I don’t walk away from projects and I don’t walk away from houses,” Curtis told The Detroit News on Monday. “I’m still in denial that I’m in such a conundrum with the city right now. I’m sitting in front of you. Let’s find a resolve.”
But Land Bank Executive Director Saskia Thompson said the authority disagrees with Curtis’ claims.
“The fact that she is categorizing this as though we have taken something away from her is fundamentally incorrect,” Thompson said. “She never owned the house. If she has any legal cause of action, it’s not against us. We’re not the ones that took money from her for that property. Someone else did when they no longer owned it. It was not theirs to sell at that point.”
The land bank filed a nuisance lawsuit in 2015 against the prior property owners, Jerome and Joyce Cauley, to compel them to renovate the blighted house. The Cauleys, the land bank said in a Monday statement, failed to meet their commitments. In January 2017, it was ordered that the property title be transferred to the land bank.
Even so, Joyce Cauley executed a quit claim deed for the house to Curtis’ Detroit Renovations LLC that spring. Numbers listed for Joyce Cauley were disconnected Monday.
Land bank officials said the invalid deed was discovered in early 2018 and an attempt was then made to reach a resolution to allow Curtis’ work to go forward. But Curtis has decided that “we’re the bad guy here,” Thompson said.
“We have made offers to her. She just doesn’t like the answers. She has refused to sign the standard, boiler plate agreement that any developer that purchases a property from us would have to sign,” Thompson said. “I frankly think she’s just irritated that we didn’t give her special treatment because she has a TV show.”
Curtis rejected the land bank’s argument.
“This is not me trying to showboat this. I didn’t even want anybody to know I own this house. I just wanted to restore it in private,” she said.
“I don’t get preferential treatment. I haven’t gotten any preferential treatment in this city, ever,” Curtis added. “Everybody always wants to accuse me of showboating. I have done my best to neutralize this situation and get on with owning this house.”
After the deed issue was discovered in 2018, the property remained in a holding pattern for two years. In July, the land bank filed a lawsuit to resolve the outstanding title issue.
In a July 2020 letter to Curtis provided to The News, the land bank made an offer that called for the property to be renovated within six months and with a series of conditions.
The land bank sought a separate court order that required the property be vacated by Feb. 12. Once the deadline expired, the land bank prepared the property for sale.
“That process confirmed that Ms. Curtis had made no visible improvements to the condition of 451 E. Grand, but some interior walls have been removed,” the land bank said in a statement. “The property remains in blighted condition with compromised structure to the first and second floors.”
Curtis said she spent about $60,000 on the shell of a house so far to address structural issues and secure the site. She also paid for renderings for the renovation work and covered costs of insuring it and paid off back taxes. The house was in the queue with others she intended to work on, so she said she put it to the side in hopes of straightening out the issues.
“I was never here to make a profit. I’m here to restore really kick-ass architecture,” Curtis said. “Why am I begging to throw money into that house right now?”
Curtis said her conversations over time with the land bank have led to multiple unresolved questions. She said she “tried to keep this quiet” and in recent years has worked to promote the land bank, featured the land bank on her television show and purchased the house she resides in while in Detroit from the home auction program — although that process led to headaches as well.
“I’ve had my own struggles with all of their ins and outs,” she said. “I don’t think anyone could ever go on record saying that the Detroit Land Bank is a highly organized and efficient well-oiled machine.”
Curtis said she’s made efforts to meet with Thompson, but they were declined. Thompson defended her decision not to engage with Curtis over the property dispute. But the land bank’s executive director said Monday she does now plan to meet with Curtis.
“When there’s a court action involved, I’m not going to interfere in that process. Not for her, not for anybody else,” Thompson said. “My role as the executive director is to make sure that we behave professionally and consistently.”
Curtis attorney Jim Rasor said the house was going to be Curtis’ next project and she has a track record of bringing investment and millions of viewers to Detroit. He maintained Monday that the land bank hasn’t provided an agreement for Curtis to review.
“We want to develop this home and we’ve been negotiating in good faith for a month with them to do just that and then all of the sudden they popped it on the market,” Rasor said. “We’re not asking for anything special.”