(WXYZ) - 7 Action News Investigator Bill Proctor broke the story about Leonard Bale, a West Bloomfield real estate investor who has been selling homes that buyers later found to be in some stage of foreclosure, according to property records.
We’ve now learned from our own news archives that Bale has been in business a long time and that there have been many complaints about the way he conducts business.
In a troubling scenario involving your tax dollars, Bale admitted guilt but only received a slap on the wrist. These days his business has grown, but many who have dealt with Bale over the years continue to ask: What can be done about Bale?
Bale sells mostly Wayne County houses that are in some state of foreclosure Local real estate experts reviewed the land contract deals and other records involving Bale’s properties. They say what he has done could result in criminal charges. We know the Wayne County Prosecutor is looking into him. But some are trying to warn others about Bale – and they are doing it by any means necessary.
One creative warning came in the form of a message on a bathroom wall in a house Bale sold to a local family. “Len Bale is a crook,” it reads. The short message also instructed readers to go to WXYZ.com. The writer clearly had seen our stories on Bale.
In our first report, Bale would not sit down for an interview or answer questions by phone. We caught up with him in a parking outside a Dearborn Heights courtroom. Bale said only, “I have an appointment.”
Bale sells houses on land contract. But many buyers, including those who gathered around a conference table here at 7 Action News last fall, discovered the home they were buying was in foreclosure. They didn’t learn this until it was too late. That means the bank or county owns the house, not Bale. Those buyers were out thousands of dollars in cash they put down, as well as the money each shelled out to fix up the property.
But the people we talked to are just a handful of the many who have crossed Bales’ path. Bale has been around a long time—and he has been dodging questions along the way.
In fact, 7 Action News Investigator Shellee Smith looked into Bale in 1996 – 16 years ago. At the time, Bale was a landlord who had a rent with the option to buy policy. Smith found Matt Vanover and his family had moved in to a Bale house. They discovered too late that the house had major structural problems and, in their opinion, wasn’t fit to live in.
Pointing at a kitchen cabinet, Vanover told Smith, “We kept seeing rats open this door here.”
Just as he looked inside, both he and Smith saw the proof.
“There’s one! Oh, there it is!” Smith said.
“See that rat?” Vanover asked. “That’s a small one. There’s some bad boys in here that’d eat your cat.”
Vanover, who was buying a home from Bale, soon discovered it was falling apart. He moved out soon after our report on Bale.
Back then Bale had about 120 rental properties in Wayne County. Bale has even more houses now. County records show about 485 properties are in his name, that of his wife, or his company, Wolverine Investors.
Today, we get the same kind of response about the condition of the houses that Bale offers from new owners. Shirley Carter bought a house in Inkster from Bale just before Christmas.
“This is the bathroom,” Carter said as she showed the house. “If you use the sink, the toilet, everything overflows.”
Carter says she has a neighbor who had watched the house for months before Carter moved in.
“She just told me the house was condemned,” Carter added. “It was stickers on the door. They, somebody removed the stickers that were on the door.”
As Smith also reported back in 1996, Bale paid his tenants a fee to file a homestead exemption in their name. Bale then used those exemptions to get a tax break. By law you can only claim a homestead exemption on the home you live in.
Court records show Bale was charged with a misdemeanor and paid a few thousand dollar fine.
Now, fast forward to a single Wayne County mother of three who bought a house from Bale two and a half years ago. Another Bale house that, she says, was more dilapidated than livable.
“Very crappy, very poor, probably shouldn’t be living there,” the woman admitted, but didn’t want to provide her name.
She says she made repairs and held on, only to discover a bank is moving to foreclose. That means Bale had no authority to sell the home on a land contract.
Clayton Waldrop lives in Dearborn Heights and told us last fall that he also had a land contract with Bale.
“We were making our payments on schedule,” said Waldrop, who was living in the home with his wife and five kids. He found a bank foreclosure notice on the house just months after buying it.
Waldrop has a simple request: “So, Mr. Prosecutor, take my tax money and put this sucker in jail!”
7 Action News was there when a half dozen people went to complain to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. They say they never heard back. Why no answer, and why hasn’t Bale been considered