BENTON HARBOR — The city of Benton Harbor will soon be shutting off the water to condemned and foreclosed condominiums and, along with the Berrien County Treasurer’s Office, is asking for help to find homes for 10 people still living in the buildings without heat or electricity.
Treasurer Bret Witkowski reported in a news release Monday that Benton Harbor officials recently inspected the New Harbor Condominiums, a former motel at 655 Riverview Drive, and determined that they should be condemned due to unsafe living conditions. They found water leaks at the condos, which could lead to pipes breaking during cold weather. Two of the three buildings have no heat. A resident was found this month using a kerosene heater that put her at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The condo association, which collects money from tenants for utilities, owes Benton Harbor $116,000 in unpaid water and sewer bills.
“The city finds it to be in the best interest if its residents to shut off the water on a date to be determined by the city of Benton Harbor,” Witkowski explained.
The treasurer said he had no objections to the decision to shut off the water. In April the treasurer’s office foreclosed on 43 of the 90 units, due to the prior owner’s failure to pay three years of property taxes. The units failed to sell at the July land auction for a minimum bid of $144,000, the amount of the unpaid taxes, and Witkowski is accepting bids for the property.
Benton Harbor and the treasurer’s office have received assistance from the Emergency Shelter and Harbor Country Mission to provide homes for the condo residents. Anyone who can help in relocating the remaining residents is asked to contact Witkowski at 982-8645.
This is not the first time the city has turned off the water at the complex. Service was discontinued in 2017 and 2018 for non-payment of bills, and condemnation notices were issued, giving around 170 residents 30 days to vacate the premises. But the orders were not enforced and some people remained, or squatters moved in. A Berrien County judge in 2018 ordered the water turned back on.
A court-appointed receiver took over in September 2018, with the expectation that repairs would be made and bills paid, but the individual resigned last July, and conditions have declined further since then.
Witkowski has heard from an interested buyer since announcing the sale. He said anyone who would like to buy the condos needs to prove that they have the money to fix them up and have a timeline for when the work will be completed. In addition, the plan needs to be approved by city officials.
If no one buys the units, he said they will eventually be turned over to the county’s Land Bank, which has more flexibility in negotiating a purchase.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak