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What happened to 'House of Renew' in Birmingham?

Business closes, frustrated customers reach out to Help Me Hank

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. – More than half a dozen frustrated customers have reached out to Help Me Hank over the past few months about House of Renew, a business formerly based in downtown Birmingham.

For years, people have trusted the business and owner Ruth Peppiatt with their precious belongings. House of Renew has been one of the few places in Metro-Detroit where people can bring statues, pottery, and other rare collectors’ items to be repaired.

In June of 2015, House of Renew closed. Customers tell Help Me Hank they've been worried about the objects they left for repairs,and they have struggled to get satisfaction from the owner. Many customers have been in touch with Birmingham police, who have been monitoring the situation.

Customers that contacted Help Me Hank want their items returned, repaired or not. However, that's not happening - and the consumer unit launched an investigation.

Customers surprised, then frustrated

Some House of Renew customers say they were surprised when the Birmingham location closed. One of those customers is Dennis Zabel of Clinton Township. He brought a pottery stand to House of Renew in January of 2015. It was supposed to be painted by June, but it was not ready. Then,he received another surprise.

"She told me that all this stuff had been put in storage and that the House of Renew was trying to find a new location," Zabel said.

Zabel isn't alone. One woman says she's missing her silver coffee pot and a deposit of $97. Another put down $100 to repair a statue of St. Michael, and another gave House of Renew $50 to repair a state of the Blessed Mother from Germany.

Why can't these customers have their belongings returned?

House of Renew owner responds

Peppiatt, met with Consumer Investigator Hank Winchester at her new location in Berkley. She told him it's been a frustrating few months. Peppiatt admits she fell behind on the rent and says she couldn't afford to keep doing business at the Birmingham location. She expected to move directly from Birmingham to a new location, but that deal fell through. Then, Peppiatt says it took months and months to find the perfect place.

"Here's my solution. Hopefully within weeks, I'm hoping by the first of the year this will be up and running so we can get back on track. We definitely want our customers to have our pieces back to them. Without a question of a doubt," said Peppiatt.

When she met with Winchester, Peppiatt was in the middle of rehabbing the new location in a shopping plaza at the corner of Woodward and 12 Mile Road. However, all the customers' belongings and all the contents of her business are still in storage. Peppiatt showed us one of the storage units in Madison Heights. It's filled to capacity with shelves, tables, chairs, and the boxes of belongings are pushed way in the back.

"Do you see how big I am?" Peppiatt said. She says it's physically impossible for her to empty the storage unit each time a customer would like to have an item returned.

"At a certain point, I need big strong, strapping guys, moving equipment," she said.

When asked if it's her responsibility to make that happen she said, "It cost me $2,000 to move it in there, and I don't have the wherewithal to move it every single time someone says, 'I want this piece.'"

So, the customers and Peppiatte remain in a standoff. She says she's scrambling to open the new location, move the items, and get back on track. Customers are tired of waiting for their belongings. Some have even offered to help her move the boxes and find their items.

"I'd gladly go to the storage unit with her and I will search for my piece," Zabel said.

However, Peppiatt said she has concerns about the liability of allowing anyone to handle other customers' belongings.

What can customers do?

At this point, frustrated customers have limited options. Peppiatt says many customers seem to be content to wait until she's back in business.

"Most of our customers have no problems and they're supporting us and holding us up and being very kind," she said.

We checked with attorney Todd Flood who is critical of her handling of her customers' belongings.

"It doesn't work that it's 'Buried behind some other box, I can't find it.' That doesn't work," Flood said.

He says frustrated customers could file a civil suit. Although, by the time legal action is taken, Peppiatt may have her new store opened in Berkley.

Birmingham police released the following statement:

"At this time, there does not appear to be any intent to deprive anyone of their property. Our detectives have been following the situation closely and have kept in communication with the business owner.  We have been advised there have been some delays but a new store will be opening after the New Year in the area of 12 Mile and Woodward. We will continue to monitor the situation.  Over time, if it is determined that property has not been returned, our detectives will review the case for possible criminal charges."

Help Me Hank will follow up with House of Renew in 2016.