An innovative effort to intervene with neglected properties owned by an absentee landlord is moving forward, after the city's Housing Court judge approved a proposal by Preservation Buffalo Niagara to take over and stabilize an Allentown house.
Judge Patrick Carney last week named PBN as court-appointed receiver for the rear house at 40 Cottage St. – one of five rental properties that are owned by Charles J. Dobucki, and which have been the subject of intense hand-wringing by preservationists, neighbors and the city for years.
The five houses – four in Allentown and one in the adjacent West Village historic district – are all more than 100 years old, but have been vacant and neglected for years, and Dobucki has not responded to either neighborhood pleas or city orders to repair them. He's been dragged into Housing Court, fined and even jailed, and the court has an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
But Dobucki – who reportedly moved out of state – still pays his city taxes and fees, so officials can't seize the properties, nor is there any rental revenue to cover the costs of fixing them up. That left the city without an obvious option, until officials put their heads together to come up with a new strategy.
Under the plan cobbled together by city officials, Fillmore Common Council Member Mitch Nowakowski and PBN, the nonprofit group will now take charge of the 40 Cottage house which is in the worst shape of the five properties. PBN will use money from its own revolving loan program to make repairs and then put a lien on the property for the cost of that work, either to be repaid by Dobucki or when he ultimately sells the house.
Fisher said the judge still has to approve the scope of work before it can begin, possibly as soon as next week. But if successful, PBN Executive Director Jessie Fisher said it could be a model for the other four houses, and for other situations.
"There’s still a number of legal steps involved, but it’s moving forward, so it’s got some potential," she said.