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Lawyer for Towne Gardens housing complex says most repair work has been done

Nearly eight weeks after an attorney for Towne Gardens housing complex appeared in Buffalo Housing Court saying work was being done to correct violations there, city inspectors still have not confirmed whether most of the problems have been corrected.

In Buffalo Housing Court on Thursday, attorneys for the city and Towne Gardens agreed that inspectors went out earlier this week to document that repairs have been made to the broken and missing outside lighting fixtures. Inspectors have yet to check whether the nonfunctional security locks are fixed, if broken windows and siding have been repaired, if missing gutters have been replaced and if mold problems reported in some units have been remediated – all violations recorded during a March inspection.

Attorney Scott M. Duquin, who represents Towne Gardens LLC, the Brooklyn-based owner of the property, told Judge Patrick M. Carney that he has photos and a DVD that show the work is largely completed. He also said he has contracts for roofing work now under way.

The judge noted the signs of progress as he addressed the attorneys, Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen and a courtroom packed with residents of the housing complex.

“My concern is always with fixing the violations (rather than levying fines),” Carney said.

“What sort of timetable are we looking at? Can we have everything remediated before the snow falls sometime in mid-August?”

Duquin assured the judge that inspectors will find that most of the violations already have been cleared, including many of those on an additional list of 75 problems that Assistant Corporation Counsel Rashied H. McDuffie had in hand.

But more actions may be coming.

More than 300 of the units in the 360-unit property on Clinton Street near Jefferson Avenue are subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. A HUD inspection of the property is scheduled for August, which could add to the demands on the owners.

Carney indicated that he would like to wait until the city and the HUD inspectors have been through the property before issuing any judgment, as long as the owner continues to work on the complex in the meantime.

He said he would give the federal inspectors time to compile their findings before having the city inspectors come up with “some kind of comprehensive list” that the court can review.

“Then we can all come up with a timetable,” he said.

Outside the courtroom, Duquin said that Towne Gardens now has an onsite property manager to whom residents can bring their complaints and that the owner is making significant investments to bring the property into compliance.

Pridgen, whose Ellicott District contains the housing complex, said after court that, while he also has seen some progress, “We’re not acting as if this is over.”

“They are not doing the City of Buffalo any favors,” he said. “If you are a large landowner and if you are receiving millions of dollars in subsidies from the federal government, you need to take care of your property.”

He added that the Towne Gardens property manager notified him recently that his office cannot contact them anymore – that only residents can file complaints.

Should Carney eventually find that the owner is not acting in good faith to repair the property, he could levy fines of up to $1,500 per violation. If HUD deems the property does not meet its standards for safe and suitable housing, it can withhold its subsidies.

The case returns to court Sept. 3.