Fenton Twp. contractor facing jail, fine for possible

FENTON TWP., Mich. (WNEM) – From the outside, Harbor Landings in Fenton looks like a nice place to put down roots. Driving through the front of the neighborhood shows off solid red brick houses and well-manicured green lawns.

But venturing in a little further reveals new construction – and all its accoutrements – everywhere. That construction has led to potholes nearly as wide as the road and almost as deep as a tire, unkempt grass, blight, trash, and noise.

It’s gotten so bad neighbors have complained repeatedly. While there are homes built by other construction companies in the neighborhood, TV5 used the Freedom of Information Act to access nearly 100 documents attached to one contractor, Luke Birchmeier, and more than a dozen homes on Harbor Landings Drive that his company, Cool Hand Property Development, LLC, built.

Birchmeier and his attorney appeared virtually in the 67th District Court for arraignment on a charge of forgery. Birchmeier pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge.

After multiple texts, calls, and a visit to his business’ listed address, TV5 was able to contact Birchmeier, but he declined to answer any questions. His attorney declined TV5′s request for a comment.

“It’s my opinion my client has no involvement whatsoever with whatever happened,” said Kyle Riem, Birchmeier’s attorney, in court. The two sat in a blank white room while on Zoom for the court date.

Court records show Fenton Township accused Birchmeier of forging a certificate of occupancy for a home on Harbor Landings Drive. If convicted of a misdemeanor over the allegedly forged government document, Birchmeier could face up to 90 days in jail, two years’ probation, and a $500 fine.

This is not the first time Birchmeier has been in court. His attorney said as much to Judge Mark McCabe.

“I don’t like seeing you and Luke Birchmeier,” Riem said. “It seems that I see you a lot with Luke Birchmeier and it’s not something I want to keep doing.”

Court records reveal more than a dozen civil matters tied to Birchmeier over the last couple years. They range from working without a permit, to blight, to parking in a handicap spot. But this is the first issue with a certificate of occupancy.

“A certificate of occupancy is issued by a municipality and it’s a document,” said Andrew Concannon, real estate attorney. “A government document basically, that says the property is basically habitable.”

Concannon is a lawyer with Smith Bovill in Saginaw. He says certificates of occupancy are important to lease or mortgage a home and gave a hypothetical example.

“So, let’s say you’re doing a 10-unit condominium and you have to have eight done by such and such a date in order to get additional financing for condos nine and 10. Then you need that certificate of occupancy,” Concannon said. “So, it incentivizes, in certain circumstances, scenarios where people are going to do whatever they have to try to get one.”

Sue Rotay moved into her condo two years ago.

“[Luke is] a very bad builder that’s gotten away with bloody hell for everything he’s built,” Rotay said. She spoke to TV5 in her family room, pointing out everything she says is wrong with the condo.

“I feel violated,” Rotay explained. “I feel very violated.”

Her problems range from the annoying, to the flat-out gross. She says two open pipes in her front lawn spewed raw sewage.

“I had to leave my residence for 10 days because I couldn’t even flush the toilet,” Rotay told TV5. “They had to [dig] 19-plus feet deep of the front yard, and it was up to almost the rooftop.”

Rotay says her list goes on: a hole in her floorboard, cracked floor beams, cracks in cement in her driveway and basement, no insulation in spots, doors that don’t seal to their frames, shelves installed at an angle, and electricity that shorted randomly.

“He put lipstick on a pig,” Rotay said, referring to Birchmeier. “And he’s going to continue to do it and I can’t stand it.”

To add insult to injury, Rotay herself is a realtor.

“I’ve been a realtor for 26 years,” Rotay said. “If I would have sold this to a client, I would have lost my license.”

The Harbor Landings resident said she’s spent about $1,000 on handyman repairs.

“You walk in a place, you think the cement’s good,” Rotay said. “You think the roof’s good. It’s as if it’s a new building, you think it’s good.”

TV5 spoke with five other residents in the Harbor Landings area – some of whom declined to speak on camera for fear of alienating Birchmeier or their own neighbors. One resident in Harbor Landings is suing him for $6,000. All the residents TV5 spoke to said they had problems with their houses after moving in.

Those issues include floors that aren’t level, glass doors that don’t lock, concrete patios redone multiple times, doors that don’t shut without a nail through them, nails holding up floorboards, cement splattered on doors, and basement steps without a handrail.

“Don’t buy from him. Don’t buy a house that he built. Definitely,” said Michelle Oseland, another Harbor Landings resident.

Oseland and her husband moved into the standalone house in October 2019. They declined an inspection.

“My husband said, ‘it’s a new build.’ He looked and everything was great,” Oseland said. “I didn’t opt to do one.”

She says her trouble started with the air conditioning not kicking on, then cracks in the sidewalk, carpet separating from the floor, and damage to the driveway and steps to the front door.

“At the time we purchased it there were no visible defects, and some of it you only learn once you get in and start living in it and using the house,” Oseland said, sitting on her living room couch. A few minutes later, she got up and pulled on an edge of her carpet – it was separated from the floor.

She says she tried reaching out to Birchmeier.

“Initially, in the beginning, he would call me and say, ‘oh, call this person. Call the electrical.’ So, I had to do all the follow-up calls myself,” Oseland said.

Oseland said she ended up paying more than $2,000 for insulation and $800 to fix the AC unit. She knows, down the line, she’ll need to replace her roof, driveway and sidewalk – thousands of dollars in expenses. In hindsight, she wishes she got that inspection.

“So important to have that done,” she said. “Because if I would have known that, then definitely wouldn’t have bought it.”