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Judge sends to jail 'one of the worst property owners I have ever encountered'

Catherine George, who owns at least a dozen Buffalo properties, is no stranger to Buffalo Housing Court.

The Buffalo landlord has been cited for numerous housing violations in recent years, with her cases repeatedly postponed – sometimes because the 49-year-old woman couldn't make a court date, other times when the judge gave her more time to fix her rental properties as well as her own Bird Avenue home.

Friday, Housing Court Judge Patrick M. Carney took a different approach, sentencing the Buffalo landlord to two weekends in jail.

"I do not take jail lightly," Carney told the woman as she stood in City Court.

But in George's case, Carney said, "slamming of the door"of a jail cell is needed to help the landlord take responsibility for her actions.

"You keep coming up with reasons why other people are out to get you," Carney said. "You are still not convinced it is your responsibility. All of this is your fault. You created this."

Catherine George (Derek Gee/Buffalo News file photo)

"She is one of the worst property owners I have ever encountered," Carney later added. "She is disingenuous."

The cases before Carney on Friday involved properties at 104 Potomac Ave., 68 Herkimer St. and 269 Bird Ave.

George's attorney, James Davis, argued George has been been investing in these and other properties she owns, and has been aggressively working to address housing violations. She is also trying to sell her properties, the attorney said.

George told Carney she has attempted to address all the issues raised by building inspectors, but the process is confusing, and different building inspectors have different expectations. "There is disparity in what they deem acceptable," she said.

George also said she believes she has improved the neighborhoods where she has purchased houses.

While some repairs have been made to the three George properties being reviewed Friday, particularly at 104 Potomac, repairs are still needed at 68 Herkimer and 269 Bird, Carney said. They include problems with the sidewalk, gutters, sewer vents and siding, he said. Some of the violations go back to 2014, Carney said.

Carney sentenced George to one weekend in jail for violations at 269 Bird, and another weekend for violations at 68 Herkimer. She is scheduled to serve the sentence the last weekend in July and first weekend in August.

Then, George is scheduled to return to Housing Court Sept. 28 to determine if violations at 104 Potomac have all been rectified, and to address violations at four of her other properties: 168 Waverly St., 123 Monticello Place, 294 Bird Ave., and 19 Clemo St.

Niagara District Councilman David Rivera was pleased with Carney's approach Friday.

"I thank Judge Carney for taking serious action today on a property owner notorious for owning properties with multiple building code and safety violations," Rivera said.

"Ms. George's properties are a serious nuisance to West Side residents, and I hope as a result of today's action we will see improvements to those properties. People deserve safe, quality housing," he said.

Deborah Lombardo, who lives on Bird Avenue, where George owns five houses, attended a portion of Friday's Housing Court hearing. Lombardo said she is glad to hear George plans to sell her properties.

"It's been going on for years," Lombardo said. "I think it's a great idea she sells her property. She can't handle them. The community would feel better if they were not sold to investors, if they are sold to people who want to be part of the neighborhood and live in the neighborhood.

"You don't want to see people have jail time," Lombardo added. "You want someone who will take responsibility for their homes and the neighborhood they buy in."

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