Investigators: House fire is third in two weeks at property owned by landlord

Posted at 8:59 AM, Jun 06, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Investigators say an early morning fire at a home on the city's northeast side is now considered suspicious, while tenants who live there said they believe it was set intentionally.

Investigators say the fire started 8:30 a.m. Monday at the home on the corner of Clancy and Bradford NE.  The home is made up of three apartment units.

No one was injured and the damage was limited, but tenants say the home was already in fairly poor shape.

The landlord who owns the home on Clancy owns several properties across the city, according to city records. Monday's fire is the third to happen at a property owned by the landlord in just two weeks, investigators told FOX 17.

Tonya Belcher, who lives in one of the units in the Clancy home, said said she heard a loud boom in the basement and then saw a man running away from the house.

"I saw a man walk real fast coming out of the side of the house where the basement door is," she told FOX 17.

Jamie Rykse, another tenant, said while she didn't see anyone run from the house she shares similar suspicions the fire was set intentionally.

"I think our landlord did it," she said. "He was over here yesterday, I told him I’m not giving him any more rent money because he’s not fixing anything."

Investigators told FOX 17 the fire began on a couch in the basement of the home, but was easily extinguished.

The cause remains under investigation. Investigators say they are also working to corroborate claims made by tenants and wouldn't confirm whether they are looking for a suspect.

"It’s too early, we’re still trying to get all of the stories to match," said Kathleen Thompson, GRFD's acting battalion chief.

Late Monday afternoon, Sgt. Terry Dixon with the Grand Rapids Police Department confirmed to FOX 17 the fire is being investigated as suspicious.

The other two fires happened last week at two of the landlord's properties on 33rd Street.  Daniel Masser, who lives in a unit at one of the properties, said the fire seemed suspicious but he's not sure what started it.

Mark Sohlden, who lives in the same building, believes the fire was intentionally set but not by the landlord.

“I think it’s not a coincidence," Sohlden said. "I think it’s a protest against the landlord and ... it’s a protest against the apartments because he’s not fixing things."

The Red Cross is assisting displaced tenants.

Following repeated attempts by FOX 17 to contact the landlord in person and by phone Monday, he responded late Monday evening, saying he'd been advised by his legal counsel not to comment on the matter.

FOX 17s Josh Sidorowicz, Erica Francis and Michael Dupre contributed to this report.