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Sunday, February 05, 2023
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Students living in ‘active construction zone’ after Air Buffalo begins moving tenants into unfinished building

Residents concerned about security and safety as construction continues on floors 1-4

*Editors’ note: The Spectrum spoke on-the-record to one student who requested to remain anonymous and another who asked only that their first name be used. Both did so out of fear of backlash from Air Buffalo. 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 these individuals’ identities. The anonymous student will be referred to by the pseudonym of Jay Damian throughout this story.

MacKenzie Thompson wakes up each morning to a chorus of industrial screeching outside her window.

Corey Young holds his breath as he steps into a shuddering elevator to start his daily commute.

Tracie Keller wonders if the police will make it in time to evacuate residents for another unreported gas leak.

Thompson, Young and Keller are among the first crop of tenants to move into their units at the Air Buffalo apartment complex this October following a series of “construction delays” cited by property owners DMG Investments LLC. 

Air Buffalo left dozens of students displaced after first notifying tenants that their units would not be ready prior to the semester on Aug. 25.

A series of move-in delays and a failed Town of Amherst building-code inspection later, tenants have begun moving into the fourth, fifth and sixth floors.

Tenants slated for units on the fifth and sixth floors moved in after the floors passed final inspections with a “conditional” result on Oct. 3. 

Air Buffalo has also begun moving tenants onto the fourth floor despite ongoing construction throughout the rest of the site. Floors one through three remain unoccupied and under construction as of publication.

The Spectrum freely entered all floors of the Air Buffalo complex without a keycard or identification.

The front doors were unlocked following business hours, and no staff were present to supervise the lobby. One mail carrier wandered through the lobby to a room labeled “office,” knocked and eventually entered on their own. The door was unlocked.

There was nobody inside, but the room housed piles of undelivered packages sent to Air Buffalo residents. An “access card sign-out sheet” for employees and a keycard sat in plain view on a desk. Adjacent to them was taped instructions on how to program a master keycard.

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The Spectrum emailed and called DMG Investments’ marketing, media inquiry and head offices for comment but did not receive a response. A spokesperson from the Air Buffalo leasing office declined to comment, citing instructions from DMG Investments to not speak with media outlets.

Residents of the apartment complex-in-progress spoke with The Spectrum on site about their living conditions since moving into their units.

“Every time I go to work in the morning, there are like 30 construction people trying to build, and it’s hard to get out of the parking lot,” Thompson, a senior psychology major, said. “I feel like we shouldn’t be allowed to live here. Every morning I try to go down the elevator. I’ve got to wait for the construction elevator to come up and then there’s a guy that’s just sitting in there and he’s like, ‘Oops sorry, I’ll send up the other one.’”

Young, Thompson’s roommate and boyfriend, echoed her concerns. The junior physics major recounted seeing various recurring utility failures since moving in.

“The elevators had a couple of times where they just stopped working altogether,” Young said. “I’m afraid one of those times it’s going to happen when I’m in it.”

Only one of two elevators was operable when Young was interviewed on Nov. 13. Stairwells on either end of the building were locked and labeled as “construction” areas.

The couple had been staying at Buffalo-Niagara Marriott, the temporary housing arrangements set up by DMG Investments, before moving into Air Buffalo in early October. 

Thompson and Young were surprised to see how “sloppy” and “unfinished” their unit was upon arrival.

“It was still like an active construction zone,” Young said. 

Thompson recounted first opening the door to their unit to see paint splattered across the floor and remnant construction stickers plastered to their windows. The couple spent the day scrubbing.

But there was more to mend. Their washing machine was inoperable, and the lock on their door had fallen off.

Despite notifying management almost immediately after they moved in, Young and Thompson had yet to receive functional repairs for either issue when they spoke to The Spectrum in late November.

“You can’t get in contact with the management about literally anything, about rent — I’ve reached out probably 10 times and it’s still not fixed,” Thompson said.

Keller and Jason*, a neighboring couple on the sixth floor, shared a similar experience. 

Though initially slated for a room on the second floor, they negotiated for a room on the sixth floor. But after arriving, the couple found paint scattered across the floors of several rooms and missing furniture. Someone had scribbled the words “stupid idea” onto the back of their heating unit.

Even with a phone number on-hand for the property manager and a steady stream of construction workers passing by his room, Jason says requests for assistance were either denied or ignored.

“No communication. Nothing. I spent six hours cleaning paint off the floors because they [the construction workers] said it wasn’t their problem,” Jason said. “We still don’t have cabinets up. We don’t have a kitchen table. You call them and they [Air Buffalo management] just don’t answer.”

The couple have since received their cabinets but are still waiting for their kitchen table, Jason told The Spectrum in a follow-up phone interview on Dec. 6.

Jay Damian*, another resident on the fifth floor, recounted his own move-in on Oct. 24 with a grimace. After waiting for two months, he was hopeful of a smooth first day settling into his new home.

Bright-eyed and buoyant, he opened the door. 

“There was a big cockroach waiting for me — right there,” Damian said, pointing to the floor of the unit’s entryway.

Like his neighbors, Damian spent his first days making repairs after noticing a faulty tap in his unit. Unable to reach a single staff member, he eventually purchased and installed a replacement on his own.

It was a sign of things to come. The tenant showed several videos to a Spectrum reporter documenting power outages spanning several weeks and the sounds of ongoing construction in the early morning.

Amenities such as Wi-Fi and transportation advertised in promotional Air Buffalo brochures are also missing. Damian says he purchased his own Wi-Fi to be able to do schoolwork and is frustrated about the lack of a shuttle to campus. These were both services that were supposed to be freely available for tenants.

The absence of communication and security worries several residents the most. Things came to a head during a heavy snowstorm on Nov. 17. Keller was among several tenants who say they had no hot water that night.

Heading back from an outing, Keller and Jason noticed police walking up and down the sixth floor knocking on doors. They knocked on Keller’s door and asked for the building’s maintenance phone number. The couple obliged, and the police moved on. 

Keller later texted the same number that night to report the lost water service. After receiving assurances that service would be restored, she went to sleep.

The next morning, the complex was teeming with firetrucks and police officers. There was a gas leak, first responders told her.

Keller, Jason and a group of 10 to 12 students gathered in the lobby on the first floor, the elevator sealed off. She noticed several international students standing in bewilderment at the ordeal.

She was furious.

“They never notified us about the gas leak. Nothing,” Keller said. “There were about 10 to 15 trucks that were coming in and out the whole day or night, and they didn’t tell us about a gas leak or nothing.” 

Keller sees the lack of administrative presence and communication as a real risk, especially for international students renting at Air Buffalo.

“[There were] a couple of students from Canada, and their passports were locked up in their room,” Keller said. “There are also students here that do not have family to go to if there is something wrong.”

Damian also expressed misgivings over the absence of staff, despite posted working hours in the leasing office.

“They say they’re always here, but I know they’re not,” Damian said. “I’m not getting my packages from USPS because it’s so often the management isn’t here that they’re returning all those packages to the sender because there’s no person to sign.” 

To address security concerns, Air Buffalo recently mandated that residents use their keycards to unlock the front lobby door. 

Keller says the new requirement hasn’t made it any more difficult to enter at will. She was bemused to see another tenant who hadn’t heard about the new keycard lock system pry open the lobby door bare-handed and take the elevator back up to their unit.

“It’s super unsafe,” Keller said. “Especially with the young kids staying here. There are families staying here.”

Damian, who previously lived at Auden Buffalo, says it is difficult to wrap his head around DMG Investments’ management of Air Buffalo.

“The amenities are not fully ready yet,” Damian said. “The construction is not even ready, and the power is out like every three days or so. I don’t even think they used that much money to construct this building.”

Christian O’Lone, then-DMG vice president of asset management, told Buffalo Business First in 2021 that the company did not expect to invest significant time or money ahead of the property’s acquisition.

“Given the stage of construction with the building, it really lends itself to some minor modifications,” O’Lone said. “We won’t have to go too far backward on this one.”

Now entering the final weeks of the semester, residents at Air Buffalo are trying to make the most of their situations, even as construction continues all around them.

“I’m trying to survive,” Damian said. “I just want to live my life. I just want to finish school.”

Damian notified management of his desire to move back into Auden Buffalo. He had not heard back as of Nov. 13.

With Thompson working through her senior year, Young says the couple is set on staying put, despite disappointment over their ordeal at Air Buffalo and reservations about DMG Investments.

“It doesn’t sit right, especially since they’re currently leasing new apartments for the next year as well,” Young said. “You’re already doing that after not even having everyone in right now?

“Sure, they’re a business. But it’s been rushed and they want money so badly that they’re really sacrificing the quality of life of people living in their apartments.”

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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