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Federal inspection of Towne Gardens planned for next month

A brief, two-day review of conditions at the Towne Gardens housing complex in May was enough to convince the federal housing officials that a more thorough inspection of the property is warranted.

Federal inspectors plan to visit the Clinton Street complex in August for a comprehensive inspection of the apartments and of the management, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

Schumer’s office has received complaints for months from Towne Gardens residents, who say that hundreds of problems – such as burned-out lights, backed-up plumbing, mold, broken locks and windows, and, in winter, unplowed walkways – are not addressed in a timely manner – or have been ignored altogether.

“An expedited top-to-bottom investigation (by HUD) will directly address the poor living conditions at the Towne Garden complex and highlight what can be done immediately to improve them. The fact that families and seniors were subjected to such horrible conditions is just unacceptable,” Schumer said in a statement. He noted that the next scheduled full review was in 2016, but that his office pushed to schedule it sooner. The mini-inspection in May revealed enough health and safety code violations to support his case.

The inspections by the Department of Housing and Urban Development will follow action by the City of Buffalo, whose inspectors in March found enough violations to bring the owners of the property, Brooklyn-based Towne Gardens LLC, to city Housing Court, most recently two weeks ago.

At that time, the owners’ attorney Scott M. Duquin told Judge Patrick M. Carney that his clients had made significant progress in correcting violations recorded by the city, along with some of the dozens more on an unofficial list of problems that are yet to be formally filed. However, city inspectors had not yet had time to check whether that was the case.

If HUD’s inspectors find the complex is not compliant with federal housing standards for livability, it can withhold its subsidies, which amount to millions of dollars.

In the city case, the judge can levy fines of up to $1,500 per violation if repairs are not made, but Carney said July 2 that his preference is to see the property fixed for the benefit of the residents rather than taking the more punitive route against the owners.

To that end, anticipating the federal action, he said he would 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 is looking for “some kind of comprehensive list” from the city and HUD about violations, he said.

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

The city case will return to Housing Court on Sept. 3.