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Court may hear tenant gripes on conditions at Towne Gardens

The beleaguered Towne Gardens residential community was put into receivership this month.

And next month, tenants may have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the property in an unusual public court conference that might be held in a community center to accommodate all of the residents who want to vent about their living conditions.

But the owners of Towne Gardens hope to end or postpone the receivership status that was granted Aug. 16, and thereby forestall the court hearing, according to documents filed in State Supreme Court.

Receivership is the latest in a series of woes at the federally subsidized apartment complex on the near East Side, including health and safety deficiencies identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Fannie Mae – the government-sponsored national mortgage finance company – filed documents in June in State Supreme Court in Erie County to foreclose on the property after the owner defaulted early this year on an $11.5 million loan.

The foreclosure is still pending but will not affect tenants, if completed.

Then on Aug. 9, Fannie Mae asked the court to appoint a receiver to collect the rent from tenants.

Fannie Mae seeks foreclosure on Towne Gardens

The court granted receivership on Aug. 16. The owners – Towne Gardens LLC and Moshe M. Florans – still would manage the 360-unit property at 440 Clinton St., but the receiver, attorney Alana Carr of Drew & Drew law firm in Buffalo, can use the rents collected to make repairs to the property, along with the owner.

But on Aug. 21, Towne Gardens made a motion either to end the receivership or postpone it so it can continue to receive the rents. That motion will be heard at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 6 before State Supreme Court Justice Henry J. Nowak.

If the receivership is kept in place, the public court conference will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 13 for input from tenants. Details of the location have not been disclosed yet, but flyers alerting building tenants and residents in the immediate area about the meeting will be distributed by Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District in which Towne Gardens is located.

The housing complex has had a history of problems.

“Towne Gardens has probably been one of the worst multi-unit developments in the Ellicott District as far as upkeep, response to tenants and city code violations,” Pridgen said. “From my first day in office, I’ve been receiving complaints about this facility.”

Complaints from tenants range from crime to mold to garbage left outdoors for weeks, he said, adding that his office has spent “countless hours” responding to resident complaints, attempting to meet with the former manager of the complex and holding public meetings. At one point, the city's building inspectors found close to 1,000 violations in a check of the multiple-unit buildings.

Owner of Towne Gardens housing complex faces code violations

In August 2015, inspectors hired by HUD found 33 health and safety deficiencies in just 25 apartments. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who worked with the department to move up its scheduled inspection by one year, had been receiving complaints for months from tenants about problems such as burned-out lights, backed-up plumbing, mold and broken locks and windows.

The report detailing the HUD findings estimated that if inspectors could have examined all of the buildings and all of the 360 units, they would have uncovered 355 health and safety problems – a serious issue for the residents, many of whom are elderly, disabled or both.

Pridgen explained this week why the inspection did not involve all of the units.

“Tenants would not allow HUD into the apartments,” he said. “Sometimes you have tenants who are not exactly observing the conditions of the lease. Others were afraid of having authorities in their houses.”

Scott Duquin of the HoganWillig law firm representing Towne Gardens did not return a message requesting comment.

Phillips Lytle, attorneys for Fannie Mae, declined comment.

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