First housing blitz of semester in UB's University Heights reveals few major violations, but problems still linger

Every time Ryan Yakal does his laundry, the water running out of his washing machine overflows due to sewage buildup in his basement sink. Yakal, a senior biotechnology major, had been experiencing the problem for three weeks but hadn’t let his landlord, Jeremy Dunn, know about it.

He didn’t realize it was sewage building up until inspectors came to his Winspear Avenue apartment Saturday.

Daniel Ryan, director of Off Campus Student Services, and Buffalo city inspectors inspected approximately 35 houses on Winspear Avenue and Northrup Place in the University Heights for the first housing blitz of the semester Saturday afternoon. The blitzes are a collaborative effort between Ryan and the city inspectors as the team inspects random houses in the Heights and only enter with students’ permission.

The inspectors were in pursuit of violations such as insufficient smoke and carbon monoxide detectors among other potentially hazardous conditions.

The blitz happened amid the backdrop of a growing conflict between students and local residents about the partying culture of the Heights. Buffalo police have increased party breakups and Off-Campus Student Services said 17 students were suspended and 30 were sanctioned to community service hours two weeks ago.

Ryan said although this housing blitz revealed fewer major violations, there are several houses on Winspear Avenue and Northrup Place inspectors have unsuccessfully attempted to get into for years that likely possess the most hazardous violations.

Landlords sometimes tell student renters not to allow inspectors in and lie that doing so would be a violation of the lease. If inspectors continually aren’t allowed into a house, inspectors can get a court order to allow them in.

In previous years, the inspectors discovered several major violations. This time around the trend of unlivable housing conditions seemed to take a shift toward the better.

Last year, inspectors discovered makeshift windows composed of plastic or Plexiglas, rooms without smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, exposed electrical units and even one basement into which carbon monoxide was leaking.

Jon Deross, a junior accounting major, and Scott Papkin, a junior business major, moved into their Winspear home, owned by Dunn, in August and have yet to experience any major issues.

Deross said he encountered several problems in his previous home on Main Street, though. Deross’ landlord there was Mike Miranda, owner of Surrender and several other properties within the Heights.

Deross said there was one section of the apartment where they did not have a door going out to the rooftop, so the area would become freezing cold. He also said his sink would often get clogged.

“We talked to [Miranda] about our issues and he did what he could and he was helpful, but the house itself shouldn’t have been in that condition to begin with,” Deross said.

The inspectors visited a house on Winspear in which the landlord turned the living room into several padlocked bedrooms, which serves as a major violation, according to Buffalo city inspector Sean Sullivan.

If someone can’t turn the door from the inside and open it without having to undo a latch or hasp, it’s a violation, Sullivan said.

“The thing is that each room is being rented as a unit as opposed to a single family home, so we have one house with six doors on it – six padlocks – six rent checks, and it’s a single family home, it should actually be considered a lodging house,” Sullivan said.

Two students living in a Northrup apartment also owned by Dunn said they had to constantly text and call Dunn about the issues in the house. The students said in order to get Dunn to address issues that were occurring in their basement, their parents had to write him a letter.

The Spectrum reached out to Dunn but he was not immediately available.

Ryan said his office runs housing listings that are limited to the houses that pass inspections. He said UB students often end up living in unsafe houses because they tend to use sites like Craigslist, which do not indicate whether houses pass inspections, when renting homes.

“Sometimes [housing blitzes are] tough because the students’ schedules are tough and our schedules are pretty fixed, but it’s been a breakthrough,” Ryan said. “We’ve learned along the way too, but it’s been a great partnership.”

Ryan said this collaboration is being looked at as a model across the country and more schools are looking to take on a similar approach.

“Even though some of the violations are just missing smoke detectors, no grounded receptacles, things that aren’t always a huge deal can turn into a big deal,” Ryan said. “Fifteen seconds could mean all the difference in the world.”

Ashley Inkumsah is the news editor and can be reached at