Residents of the Marine Drive Apartments are angry about a notice telling them not to direct complaints or concerns to anyone but management and staff.
The notices, which were posted March 10 in the main lobbies of the seven buildings in the complex, were an attempt to control what tenants say to each other, residents said.
But property manager Henry Littles said the postings were misinterpreted. He blamed the problem on members of the resident council.
"To all residents," the notice said. "Residents' private matters should not be discussed with anyone other than [Erie Regional Housing Development Corp.] office staff. The residents' home and their business is confidential. Any information provided to anyone outside of office staff could be used against the residents' best interest. Thank you, Marine Drive management and staff."
Many residents believe the notice was designed to intimidate, harass and create a hostile living environment. "This was an attempt by management to somehow try to stop the residents from talking to each other," said Elizabeth Harris, a representative of the Flagstaff building and president of the Marine Drive resident council.
Harris said she received many calls about the controversial posting from neighbors, some calling it a clear violation of their rights.
"I know it's stated very ambiguously . . . but this is a gag order," said one longtime resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of intimidation or retaliation by Littles and the management company.
Owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, Marine Drive is not public housing. The authority contracts with Erie Regional Housing to manage the 616-unit complex.
Littles, property manager since 2007, said the posting was triggered by a resident who called the staff to say that days earlier, he had complained about noise to Joseph Mascia, a member of the resident council, but that nothing was done.
The problem, Littles added, is that some members of the resident council led tenants to believe that if they lodge complaints with the council about issues like noise, leaky faucets or peeling paint, the council has some managerial power to solve the problems.
To clear up any confusion, the notices were a way to set the record straight about the proper channels to follow, he said.
"People can say what they want to each other, and I'm not suggesting they do anything different," he said. "But if you expect things to get done, call the office to get it done."
Littles blamed Harris and Mascia for the controversy by taking residents' complaints instead of directing them to staff.
Mascia disagreed. He said residents often come to building representatives with complaints and are instructed to contact management first. But if the problem is not taken care of in a timely manner, the tenant should then come back to the resident council.
"My job as a commissioner and a member of the resident council is to answer complaints if they are not answered in a timely manner by management," Mascia said. "That's what we're supposed to do."