The high cost of cheap housing
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
A sump pump hose snakes out of a broken basement window. That house’s foundation is cracked. This is the reality to the residents of 195 Englewood Ave.
Last Saturday, UB had its second Housing Blitz of the 2012-13 academic year. One of the houses selected for inspection had a buckling, nearly collapsing wall. The troubled house was one of 20 inspected during the blitz. Most of the houses had what the present building inspectors described as common violations.
It was evident from the poor condition of the Englewood home the house was subjected to years of neglect, according to Keith Davies, a city building code inspector, who was at the blitz.
“That whole wall needs to be rebuilt,” Davies said. “Eventually the house will buckle and cave in.”
He went on to say if the landlords don’t attempt to make the required repairs soon, the students living in that home are in danger of being homeless.
On Jan. 9, 2011, 63 Montrose Ave. – another home in The Heights district – was damaged because of a serious electrical fire. That home is owned by BRoS Properties. Bradley and Shawn Engel manage the company and own 17 apartment houses in The Heights, according to their website.
The Englewood home with the collapsing wall is also one of these houses. The basement was consumed in black mold after groundwater penetrated through a gaping crack in the wall.
Although the Englewood Avenue residents were hesitant to speak up against the property management, they did express serious concern.
The numerous violations noted by city building inspectors will not be made public until sometime next week, according to Lou Petrucci, assistant director of the department of permits and inspections services for the City of Buffalo.
The students in the neglected home were not willing to speak on the record with The Spectrum.
More than half of the houses inspected had hasp locks – a type of padlock. These locks are a building code violation when installed on any interior doors. The lock, located on the doorframe, makes it easier for an individual to be trapped in his or her room during a fire and more difficult to be rescued, according to all officials present at the blitz.
Other common violations in many of the homes include upholstered furniture outdoors, outdoor grills under covered porches and the use of common areas (like a living room) as a bedroom.
Most students living in The Heights aren’t aware of what to check for before signing a lease for one of the homes in the area, according to Dan Ryan, director of off-campus housing.
Sub-Board, Inc., which provides free legal advice and representation to UB students, has a website that contains a search engine for potential rental properties in Buffalo.
“Right now it’s not much different than Craigslist,” Ryan said.
Student Affairs is interested in changing the current system, according to Ryan.
Sub-Board has a disclaimer on its website stating that it is not responsible for any inaccuracies posted about property listings by students or landlords in the search engine. Ryan wants this changed.
If Student Affairs puts pressure on Sub-Board, Ryan believes that they can be required to have a “certificate of occupancy.”
“The only [landlords] who will have a certificate of occupancy are people who will let an inspector come through and take a look to certify that the electrical is up to code and the rest of the place is not in violation of the housing code,” Ryan said.
The next Housing Blitz is on Saturday, Sept. 22. Both landlords and tenants are notified by email if their houses are on the inspection list. After the email, tenants have the right to deny entrance to the building inspectors. Most participants encountered on Saturday allowed inspectors to access the inside of the houses.
“[The Housing Blitz] is a good program,” Petrucci said. “We’re not gauging on cleanliness; we don’t care about beer bottles or anything else. We check the basics, make sure [students in The Heights] are safe and then move on.”