Landlord responds to negative publicity

Jeremy Dunn discusses student complaints and housing blitzes

The Spectrum

Jeremy Dunn owns 65 houses in the University Heights. One of his tenants, Mark Vega of 66 Northrup Place, described him as an "absentee slum lord."

Students complained to The Spectrum during the past four housing blitzes about Dunn's slow and sometimes lack of response to their frequent calls and complaints.

A girl on Winspear Avenue has been calling Dunn since June to fix her shattered window. Vega asked Dunn two years ago to rid the clutter and garbage from his attic. A student has left Dunn numerous voicemails to fix his leaking sink since June.

The two students besides Vega asked to remain anonymous. They were afraid of the backlash they would receive from Dunn if they gave out their names.

Dunn was shocked to hear students are afraid of him. He also finds the recent negative publicity of landlords in the Heights to be unfair.

Dunn is mainly focused on his long-term plan for the Heights. He wants to see his neighborhood thrive, and he's already seen progress. Dunn began investing in the Heights eight years ago. He knows landlords who came to Buffalo 11 years ago and have done enormous upgrades to a neighborhood that was an "absolute wreck" when they arrived.

While Dunn said the Blitzes are ultimately good for the neighborhood, they are interfering with his ultimate goal.

Dunn said that as far as he knows, the City of Buffalo went decades without inspecting properties in the Heights. Now since 2011, city inspectors and UB Off-Campus Student Services inspect the properties twice a year.

"That sort of catches the landlord in a precarious position," Dunn said. "A well-meaning landlord like myself, who might be on a long-term schedule like putting 10 or 20 years into really fixing that neighborhood up, suddenly looks like a bit of a 'shmuck.'"

Dunn's tactic for addressing housing issues from residents in 65 houses is simple: prioritize.

"Personally, I think he only comes around when it's time to count his money," said Vega, a senior international business major. "He's overstretched himself, so he really can't take care of every house."

Dunn said he delegates housing jobs to his staff: two full-time partners and repairmen, one part-time repairman and a part-time cleaning and painting person. He also has working arrangements with a master plumber and roofing company.

He is the "first line of defense." Tenants call him, and then he dispatches the appropriate person if it's not something he can help with - like leasing plans and rent.

Though it may not seem like it to the city inspectors - who often give Dunn notices to immediately attend to housing violations - he and his staff work to fix half a dozen houses at a time. He expects to get "quote-unquote violations" a lot within the next couple years.

"It's going to take us that much time to make that a neighborhood that is nice and makes people want to see it," Dunn said. "And, that's my goal anyway. I'm not fighting this. I'll be very happy when we get to that point. But in the meantime, we're going to have a lot of bad publicity because it's like the media just suddenly sees this and they are like, 'Oh, why aren't all of these things fixed up?"

When Dunn began buying his properties in the Heights eight years ago, he said the neighborhood was "devastating." He has done his best to try and tackle the issues.

Dunn was taken aback when told students are afraid of him. He said he was "surprised."

He thought he was one of the students' friends. A resident of Winspear Avenue, Dunn makes himself available to tenants every day. His full-time job is maintaining 65 houses, 35 of which he owns by himself. On Thursday night, he said students came to his house at midnight to talk about water issues.

Before he came to Buffalo eight years ago, Dunn worked toward his Ph.D. at Cornell University after getting his master's in economics.

He left five months before finishing his dissertation to build a real estate career in the Heights - a neighborhood he said had housing values that were low, yet it had a high demand for students. The first properties he bought in Buffalo were vacant, foreclosed Winspear Avenue houses.

He loves college students. In fact, he wanted to be an economics professor while studying at Cornell.

Student housing has an unusually high turnover - Dunn has new tenants every year. The clutter in students' attics are from years of students not coming back to get their belongings, though City Inspector Charles Didio said the clutter is a fire hazard.

The frustrated students who leave Dunn voicemails about their leaking sinks don't know he is working on bigger projects. As a local house owner, he said he and his team are not capable to take on the amount of projects that corporate real estate agencies can.

But students living in the houses have temporary, but important, needs. They are asking for, at minimum, an acknowledgment for their concerns - though Dunn said he and his staff respond to tenants typically within 24 hours.

"[Dunn] never responds to our calls unless it's about rent," said a student tenant who asked to remain anonymous. "When we moved in, we didn't have working keys for three weeks. He won't clean out the attic or the basement and we feel like it's a fire hazard."

Dunn said it would be foolish for someone with "real money" to invest a lot of money in the Heights because he or she would never "get the payoff." He said the value of the houses never rises.

"So it's been sort of up to people like me that are smaller-time people who are willing to go in there and do some work and spend more money each year trying to upgrade them, with the goal of eventually five, 10, 15 years down the road, it'll be a much better neighborhood," Dunn said.

Not every tenant will always be pleased, according to Dunn. Though many don't see it, he claims to be contributing to the betterment of the Heights.