Nicole Curtis has filed a lawsuit against the City of Detroit Land Bank (DLBA) after a three-year-long conflict over who rightfully owns a dilapidated home she says she purchased with the intent to fix it up.
“Today, I gave my attorneys the approval to file suit against the City of Detroit Land Bank. The news is running with this photo as I didn’t pose for one,” she wrote. “I mean, if you’re getting ready to take on another city you best run with a photo that looks like you’re an a– kicker, right? #internationalwomensday I was born for this [heart emoji] let’s go.”
In legal documents obtained by PEOPLE, Curtis claims she purchased the property from the late homeowner’s widow for $17,000 via “Quick Claim deed.”
A representative for Curtis’s company, Detroit Renovations, told PEOPLE that the home had been vacant for more than 30 years and she purchased it in a “private, legal sale in 2017, sight unseen.”
Including the purchase price, Curtis’s company has spent “approximately $60,000 including a significant amount of time and labor costs on the property” to date, according to the lawsuit. Other costs involved include “renovating, safeguarding, insuring, paying taxes and maintaining” the property, the filing states.
Issues first arose in February 2018, according to the lawsuit, when the DLBA — a public organization whose “mission is to return the city’s blighted and vacant properties to productive use,” according to their website — contacted Curtis and said that the house she had paid for actually belonged to them.
The lawsuit also notes that Curtis’s belief that she legally held the title to the property was “a mistake” but claims she was “put off” by the DLBA repeatedly, “including extended periods of non-response.”
As of August 2020, the DLBA has “obtained Title’ of the property, the suit states, and real estate listings show that the 2,641-square foot, 5-bedroom house was put up for sale at the beginning of March for $40,000.
“Nicole is suing them for the money that was invested in the home,” the Detroit Renovations representative says. “Nicole is still open for resolve, but the DLBA has refused.”
A representative for the DLBA tells PEOPLE that they refute this statement.
“Ms. Curtis has never been the legal owner of 451 E Grand, however she was offered multiple opportunities to sign an agreement with the DLBA to rehab the house, which she refused,” they said in a statement. “We’ve already won two separate legal actions about this property. The property is currently for sale and Ms. Curtis is welcome to make an offer and follow the same process to which we hold all of our buyers.”
DLBA Executive Director Saskia Thompson told The Detroit News last Tuesday that “the fact that [Curtis] is categorizing this as though we have taken something away from her is fundamentally incorrect.”
“She never owned the house. If she has any legal cause of action, it’s not against us,” Thompson told the publication. “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 Detroit Renovations rep says of the star, whose projects have been the subject of her shows Rehab Addict on DIY Network and the new Rehab Addict Rescue on HGTV and Discovery+, that “Nicole’s entire work for the past decade has been dedicated to saving old homes in Detroit. She owns another house on the same block that, while waiting for a [resolution] with the DLBA authority, they restored from top-to-bottom. In the meantime, this poor house sits and rots as Nicole can do nothing.”
“It’s very sad for all of us as we have our hearts and money invested in it,” Curtis told PEOPLE.
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This isn’t the first time Curtis has become entangled in a legal battle with a city.
In early 2017, the city of Minneapolis sued Detroit Renovations, claiming that the HGTV star failed to renovate a dilapidated house her firm bought from the city in 2013 for just $2 with the caveat that it would be fixed up.
The suit stated that her company “failed to substantially complete the Minimum Improvements on the Property.” It also claimed the company hadn’t paid property taxes or maintained insurance on the residence.
The city alleged breach of contract, and asked the court to give the property back to the city.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Curtis’s lawyers said in court filings that the TV personality admitted the home had not been renovated, but that the company “was prevented and/or delayed from completing performance (of the contract’s terms) due to the acts of Plaintiff and the acts of third parties.”
Curtis also reacted to the lawsuit on social media at the time, saying on Instagram that she’d told her team to “to ignore the negativity.”
The Minneapolis city council agreed to a settlement with Detroit Renovations in April 2017, CBS Minnesota reported at the time, and Curtis was ordered to complete the development of the property in question by Oct. 15, 2017, subject to a 60-day cure period. The company was also required to “deposit construction costs in the amount of $150,000,” according to the publication.
Detroit Renovations did complete the renovations and the home sold for $395,000, according to property records.
Curtis hosted her first show Rehab Addict, for which she bought and restored old houses in Michigan and Minnesota, on the DIY Network from 2010 to 2018,
She told PEOPLE in January that making the hit show was often exhausting for her as a young single mom. (She has two sons Ethan, 23, and Harper, 5.) “Everything you see on the show, I personally bought, picked up, put into place, ironed the curtains, everything,” she said. And filming could be grueling: “It was so raw. And I’d wear the same clothes every day. I didn’t have any makeup on.”
Curtis with her sons in 2019
During the series’ run, she also went through a contentious, years-long custody battle over Harper with her ex-boyfriend Shane Maguire and became an outspoken advocate for the rights of breastfeeding mothers. Her choice to continue to breastfeed Harper at age 3 drew criticism from some and became a flashpoint in her legal fight with Maguire. They finally reached a custody agreement in October 2018.
On Rehab Addict Rescue, which premiered in January after Curtis’s two year-hiatus from television, the design expert is part renovation guru, part life coach, as she comes to the aid of families who are in over their heads after purchasing old homes in need of an overhaul.