Students contribute to unsafe housing conditions in the Heights

On November 18, 2012

  • Charles Didio, a City of Buffalo building inspector, spent Saturday looking at homes in University Heights as a part of the last housing blitz until spring 2013. Adrien D’Angelo /// The Spectrum

Residents of 94 Tyler St. - a house owned by University Heights landlord Jeremy Dunn - ripped out the smoke detectors, broke doors and shot a potato gun in the house since signing their lease in June, according to Gary Ziolkowski, chief building inspector for the City of Buffalo.

The students told Ziolkowski it was because they were bored this summer. 

On Saturday, Dan Ryan, director of off-campus student relations, and his team of inspectors did the final round of the housing blitz for the semester. They found both students and landlords are contributing to the unsafe conditions of housing in the University Heights area. The blitz covered Northup Place and Tyler Street.

"There's the 'broken-windows' theory in sociology, where if there's a neighborhood that has either graffiti or broken glass or boarded up windows, there is a likelihood that the damage would increase if the owner doesn't fix it within seven days," Ryan said.

Tenants think one more cigarette burn in the carpet or a broken window won't make a difference, according to Ryan.

Irresponsible landlords who don't check on the property on a regular basis cause many of the poor living conditions. It is their responsibility to tell the tenants what behavior isn't allowed - especially removing fire detectors, installing hasps to lock bedroom doors and creating makeshift bedrooms in living rooms and foyers.

"Anywhere else in the world, when you rent a flat, you rent a flat," Ryan said. "Whether it's a three-bedroom or four-bedroom, you rent the whole thing. Here, folks sometimes rent individual rooms. If the bedroom is illegal, then it is the landlord's responsibility." 

In one apartment, the illegal third floor not only had a bedroom, but also a kitchen, living room and bathroom. The problem is there is one staircase.

 "That's the most dangerous situation you can be in - where there's only one stairwell to get out - especially in an old house like this," said Tom Brodfuehrer, an inspector. "These houses would go up [in flames] so quickly. The smoke would fill that top floor and you'd never have a chance."

Illegal rooms are the most pressing issues, according to inspectors. They will order students to vacate immediately. If inspectors come back and see a tenant residing in the illegal room, the city will take the landlord to court for renting the illegal room in a specific individual lease.

Half of the reported cases have gone to court, forcing students out of their homes. But Ryan said UB is often able to find students alternative housing. 

To help prevent the situation, students need to do their part to take care of University Heights housing, Ryan said. He suggested when something breaks in the house, students call the landlord immediately and insist it gets fixed. If no improvements are made, Ryan suggests students notify the City of Buffalo housing inspectors. Ryan suggested students request the landlord provide an inspection of the house before they sign the lease.

Ryan also urged students to update their local address on HUB, so the housing inspectors know where to look for student housing and the university would be able to contact a student in case of an emergency. Additionally, Ryan said any student who does not have an updated local address on HUB is in violation of the Student Code of Conduct.

  The housing blitz team said it is always on the lookout for any signs of a UB student, using clues like parking tags, window stickers, red cups or smoking paraphernalia. However, inspectors will not punish students for illegal paraphernalia, and Ryan does not enter the houses.

The group has and will file reports for houses that are not rented by students in order to make the University Heights a safer place to live. Brodfuehrer said inspectors are seeing positive results.

"There's definitely been an improvement in the housing stock," Brodfuehrer said. "[Making repairs] is contagious. Each time you come down here, you can see improvements. No one wants to be written up by us."

Saturday's blitz was the last of the year. Inspectors hope to continue inspecting during the spring 2013 semester.



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