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PUSH Buffalo takes tenant's dispute public, calling out landlord and city officials

Brianna Bryant, a tenant on Wohlers Avenue in Buffalo, speaks during a news conference complaining of housing conditions, and accusing the landlord of turning off heat after she complained to the city.
Michael Mroziak
Brianna Bryant, a tenant on Wohlers Avenue in Buffalo, speaks during a news conference complaining of housing conditions, and accusing the landlord of turning off heat after she complained to the city.

PUSH Buffalo and other community advocates say a local landlord is taking rent money and public dollars, but neglecting his responsibilities to keep the property in good shape. The landlord says that’s not true, and that often times he’s run into difficulty from tenants while trying to fix problems at the rental property in question. The dispute went public Friday, when PUSH Buffalo openly called out the landlord, and city officials.

They stood outside 416 Wohlers in the City of Buffalo, joined by tenant Brianna Bryant. She’s employed and says during the pandemic has been able to keep up on rental payments with the help of Emergency Rental Assistance Program dollars. But Bryant also complains that she and her children have been living in subpar conditions, including black mold, faulty wiring, broken windows and other housing code violations.

And when she complained to city inspectors, Bryant alleges, her landlord responded by shutting off the heat.

“He was upset because I let the inspectors know what was going on,” she said. “So he basically turned my gas off when we called right when we called the gas department and told them like what was going on. They said that the gas was on in the entire apartment, he had to turn the valve off in the house. And then he tried to tell me there were four separate meters. If you look on the side of the house, there's only two. So basically, he's just taking advantage of people in the apartment building.”

The landlord was identified by PUSH Buffalo members as Roksana Priven of Honest Property Management and Multi Services, Inc. Priven, when reached by WBFO for comment, forwarded a text message claiming the allegations are untrue.

The message reads in part: “She called me last Sunday, she has no hot water. I was out of town Sunday. Then went to her apt Monday morning, we showed her kitchen sink, bathroom, everywhere have hot water. Then Tuesday again said she has no heat, we went over there Wednesday, we showed her broken thermostat. We fixed it.”

Priven, in his message, stated he had returned to the property Thursday to check up on the hot water and heat, but Bryant did not answer her door. He continued that a broken thermostat was again found to be problem, and was fixed Friday.

PUSH Buffalo, however, is rallying behind Bryant. In addition to pointing fingers at the landlord, they also called out city officials including members of the Common Council.

“If you are taking public dollars through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and you are not doing right by your tenants, we see you and we're going to hold you accountable,” said Harper Bishop, PUSH Buffalo’s Deputy Director of Movement Building. “We need greater scrutiny from public officials from the City of Buffalo, and from our elected officials in totality, around what it looks like when we give public dollars to individuals.”

A spokesman for the city’s Permits and Inspections Department says Priven has offered tenants alternative housing for the time being. Bryant confirmed receiving the offer, but says it was for an apartment in Niagara Falls, the quality of which is unacceptable.

Bryant said she is pondering options including moving, but explained that although employed, once she has paid bills and supported her children, she isn’t able to save enough for a new security deposit on short notice.

Her housing advocates say she shouldn’t have to simply move as a means to solve the problem.

“It destabilizes their life. Brianna’s children go to school. They obviously go to school in the area. This affects everything about a person's life, where they live. And once folks become stabilized in a place, they become dependent on that community in that area,” said PUSH Buffalo’s Meghan Zickl. “It's not a long-term solution to ask tenants to continue to move, because landlords don't want to fix the properties that they own.”

He also suggests the tenant has not always been accessible or cooperative.

“We try fixing inside, but she (doesn’t) give us access. Even threatened us if you go inside for fixing,” he stated in his text message.

“In the above circumstances, we are helpless now.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.