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Wednesday, December 07, 2022
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Former DMG employee discusses ‘predatory’ Air Buffalo project

Air Buffalo called off move-in to incomplete apartments after failing an Amherst inspection

<p>It was “obvious” that Air Buffalo would not open in time for the start of the fall semester, a former DMG Investments employee said.&nbsp;</p>

It was “obvious” that Air Buffalo would not open in time for the start of the fall semester, a former DMG Investments employee said. 

*Editors’ note: The Spectrum spoke on-the-record to a former DMG employee who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of backlash from Air Buffalo and DMG Investments LLC. The Spectrum doesn’t usually grant anonymity to sources unless they “may face danger, retribution or other harm,” as enumerated in the SPJ Code of Ethics, but has made the decision to do so here in order to protect this person’s identity. The anonymous source will be referred to by the pseudonym of Smith Erwin throughout this story.

It didn’t add up.

After overseeing the opening of Auden Buffalo in 2021, one worker at DMG Investments — the real estate developer of Auden Buffalo and Air Buffalo —  saw an “obvious” issue with its sister Air Buffalo project at 1265 Sweet Home Road: there wasn’t enough time.

Students are now paying the price for the firm’s lack of transparency about the timetable and negligence for safety, according to Smith Erwin*, a former employee who worked under DMG Investments LLC to develop and open Auden Buffalo.

Erwin says management has continued to cut corners after students were displaced when Air Buffalo first informed tenants of a construction delay prior to the semester on Aug. 25.

Tenants meant to move into apartments “on the first to fourth floor[s] of the building” were told they would move in by “at least Oct. 15.”

Then, in late September, management also attempted to move students into their apartments in spite of incomplete construction but diverted at the last moment, according to Erwin. 

Andrew Brown, a graduate political science major, says that his girlfriend was one of the numerous tenants meant to live on the fifth and sixth floors of the complex who received a priority move-in date on Sept. 23.

“They told us this was the move-in date we were going to end up with to make sure everything was safe and that ‘we’ll guarantee everyone can move,’” Brown said.

The tenants were set to move that evening at 5 p.m. Just less than 40 minutes before the deadline, at 4:26 p.m, the packing tenants received notice that the move was off in light of Air Buffalo’s failure to pass a “final inspection process” and obtain a certificate of occupancy, according to an email obtained by The Spectrum.

Bound by contract to temporary housing arrangements at the Buffalo-Niagara Marriott, the remaining tenants await their latest delayed Nov. 4 move-in date.

The Spectrum called the number listed on Air Buffalo’s website for comment and received no response, and no call back in time for publication.

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Fearing retribution from their former employers, Erwin agreed to speak to The Spectrum under a pseudonym to shed light on the background of the project and corroborate student experiences since the housing debacle began.

DMG Investments told The Buffalo News it would begin construction on Sept. 1, 2021 after applying for a $3.5 million tax break to begin the project and “wrap up within a year.”  However, the investment firm did not buy the property from its previous owner until Nov. 4, 2021 before beginning construction. 

Erwin says the delayed timeframe meant it was clear from the start that construction would not finish in time.

“They purchased the property later than they anticipated and were never able to keep up with the fast-paced schedule needed to open in August 2022 as they planned,” Erwin said. “They should have made everyone aware of this before they had first-time renters sign a lease for Air [Buffalo].”

Erwin says the slow progression of construction in the ensuing months up to the deadline should have further alerted the investment firm that the project would not be complete in time. 

“It was obvious they were never going to open on time,” Erwin said. “They were still building the exterior walls in July of 2022.”

The former employee condemned the firm’s decision to continue advertising the initial Aug. 25 opening as construction pressed well into the summer months. 

Between May and August, the Air Buffalo team continued to entice prospective tenants by flaunting $100 gift cards for signers, announcing sold-out floor plans, and offering virtual tours and 3D renderings of the completed space on its Instagram account.

“They needed to be more transparent with these 18- to 22-year-olds before locking them into a $15,000 [per] year contract,” Erwin said. “It feels predatory to tell these inexperienced renters that they were going to have their apartments ready when it was so obvious that they weren’t going to be.”

Brown finds it hard to believe that Air Buffalo management didn’t think there would be delays.

“The situation is, at its best, massive amounts of incompetence, and at worst, exploitation,” Brown said. “I can’t imagine that a place that’s advertised for students — people who are trying to start the semester — wouldn’t be aware that they’re going to fail a city inspection that was scheduled at the end of September, a month later after the initial open date.”

It has been difficult for Brown to watch his girlfriend and other students making the most out of limited utilities and resources at their hotel rooms. The graduate student regularly visits to bring her food and to talk with other students on her floor.

“For her especially, it’s difficult. She goes to therapy and the therapist is understanding that this has psychologically affected her negatively. She had an original living situation that she can’t go back to,” Brown said. 

He also cited the plight of international students who paid the entirety of their lease upfront.

“I can’t imagine sinking however many tens of thousands of dollars into an apartment upfront, and then living in a hotel for months on end,” he said.

The second move-in delay was the last straw for many students still waiting in their hotel rooms, according to Brown. Everybody involved, from students to family members, is frustrated with Air Buffalo’s lack of accountability throughout the entire process.

“The parents are pretty upset about it. There’s been absolutely zero communication after the failed inspection,” Brown said. “My girlfriend is concerned. She’s emailed them multiple times, she’s called them multiple times. Radio silence. And I’m assuming that’s for legal purposes.”

Erwin decried the deterred move-in attempt as reckless and indicative of a pattern of DMG Investment’s disregard for tenant safety.

“Let’s say for conversation’s sake that they [the town of Amherst] did allow them to move in,” Erwin said. “Air Buffalo would just want them to live [with] around 50 contractors running machinery in the building, driving around heavy machinery outside of the building, creating drywall dust, painting for weeks on end and dealing with utility interruptions while they finish other floors?”

The pattern of cutting corners stretches back to the grand opening of Auden Buffalo, where Erwin recalls having students moved into an unfurnished building “with only mattresses and bed frames” and limited amenities in time for a grand opening party.

He claims the Wi-Fi didn’t work and the shuttle to and from campus was too small for its residents. Residents were expected to pay 100% of the rent, regardless.

“Instead of helping them out, they threw a party with live music so that they could show it off to their investors, their CEO, COO, the local news, and UB representatives,” Erwin said. “They never cared to address the concerns of their residents, they just wanted it to look good for their investors and business so they could open more future projects, like Air Buffalo.”

Erwin says he is no longer working directly under DMG Investments LLC after the firm terminated all of its on-site employees at Auden Buffalo and had them rehired under a third-party management company.

In the meantime, Brown says that tensions have spluttered to a boiling point in recent weeks. 

“There’s a hotel floor full of students who are being accommodated because they were supposed to move in two months ago. You could hear, even after the two-week move-in date hit, they — their parents — were irate and screaming and all that stuff,” Brown said.

Several students and families have proceeded with legal action. The Spectrum reached out to several students, including Brown’s girlfriend, who could not comment on record in light of ongoing legal proceedings.

“After changing the move-in dates, like, four times and failing a city inspection, and total radio silence from any sort of support, certainly there’s a lot of animosity,” Brown said. 

But he says the path forward remains thorny for a particularly vulnerable class of tenants, such as students.

“Student time is costly because you’re on the move with very fluid schedules and a lot of stuff to do, especially students that are moving here from another city or another state of the country and maybe you don’t have the familial structure to back you up with this, you know?” Brown said. “You’re going into litigation against people who are supplying your living conditions in a hotel, which is the only place you can live.

“There’s a very huge imbalance in terms of the power dynamics and this is a very vulnerable class of people that can’t really do much else other than cut their losses or go through an extremely difficult legal process.”

Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at kyle.nguyen@ubspectrum.com


KYLE NGUYEN
IMG_7041.jpg

Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.

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