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Flint fire marshal expects continued arson at Richfield Court Apartments until property is demolished

City preparing to board up, fence off and evacuate the property on Friday
Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - After three more intentionally set fires at Richfield Court Apartments in Flint, the mayor and police chief are ready to move forward with steps to secure the complex.

The city of Flint condemned the entire Richfield Court complex in February after a series of ABC12 News reports detailing unlivable conditions there, including burst water pipes, flooding, broken windows and unsecured buildings with major fire damage.

Now two months later, the Flint Fire Department has responded to nearly half a dozen fires at the complex. A fire in March that displaced seven people, including an infant, was set intentionally, according to the fire marshal.

Lab results that came back Tuesday confirmed that someone poured gasoline in a hallway and lit it. The Flint Police Department is investigating who was responsible for that fire.

The fire marshal knows he’ll have to continue coming out to investigate until the city or owners tear down the buildings.

He’s certain the three fires Monday night were set intentionally. No renters were on the property when the fires broke out in three separate buildings after the the United Way helped the last actual tenant relocate last Friday. Only squatters and residents who refused several offers of relocation assistance remain.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley said the city is working through a legal process of boarding up the buildings and erecting a fence around Richfield Court Apartments.

“We just cannot commandeer property. You know it’s due process,” he said. “We have to let them know what the violations of law has been, give them opportunity to redeem and if they fail to do so we have to adjudicate it in a court of law.”

A court order is in place if the out-of-state Richfield Court Apartments owners do not step up by Friday to take corrective action. The city can step in to shut off the water, Consumers Energy will cut off the electricity and then the city will go door-to-door with several organizations evacuating the buildings.

Flint Police Chief Terence Green said officers will provide security throughout the day on Friday.

“We do have, as you know, a person running around committing arson in that complex, and also we’ve received reports of squatters and things of that nature,” he said. “So we’re just there to keep everyone safe and make it a smooth and safe transition.”

Green is hopeful that boarding up all the doors and windows, installing a fence around the property and posting no trespassing signs will put a stop to the fires. But experience tells him otherwise.

“I mean, hopefully that will work. But no, in my experience that won’t. It won’t be 100% guaranteed that that will keep people out,” Green said.

He said increasing patrols and technology will help law enforcement keep an eye on the property. The complex’s owners, who live in Florida, were supposed to handle these measures by now. A court order shows the city already fined them $20,000 for violations, which hadn’t been paid as of Tuesday.

The city also is still waiting for the owners to take care of the outstanding $1.2 million water bill that’s been racking up since December 2017.

Neeley said the city will pay to board up the complex for now, but officials will be going after the owners to pay back all costs.

“We’re going to hold this property owner accountable civilly and maybe criminally,” he said.

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