According to Erie County property records, Williamsville resident Kwayo Ithe Bonkuka acquired the property from Fridman on March 11, 2020. Neighbors have since called in 44 complaints through 311.
Bonkuka has been cited for seven housing code violations on the property since June 2020. Repair work was halted then, when inspectors issued a stop-work order that read in part: “Siding over possible asbestos siding. Permit and asbestos survey required.”
Some repairs have subsequently been made, including biohazard work to remove bodily fluids left by the two corpses, Bonkuka’s attorney, Benjamin Ritter, said in court.
Nevertheless, windows are boarded and debris is scattered around the yard. An inspection report from March 30 described the property as “vacant and blighted in the area and dangerous to the neighbors.”
Meanwhile, Bonkuka owes $2,025 for six unpaid adjudication summonses issued the summer of 2020. Three of the summonses were for accumulation of garbage; the other three were for overgrown grass and weeds. The original fines totaled $675. The city has not turned the matter over to a collections agency, records show.
Niagara District Council Member David Rivera said he has been working with residents to hold Bonkuka accountable.
“We were angry at him before this,” Rivera said. “We were angry at him months ago when we did the Clean Sweep, and we did it purposely because of that house.”
Rivera’s reference is to the city’s Operation Clean Sweep Initiative, which aims to resolve quality-of-life issues by addressing blighted properties. In July, a Clean Sweep crew boarded up doors and windows at 149 Arkansas and filed an order to vacate after a squatter living in the house vandalized a neighbor’s car.
“The city is boarding up his private property. There should be a cost to this owner,” Rivera said.
An inspector wrote the most recent case for Housing Court on May 5, but Judge Patrick Carney — who declined to speak with Investigative Post on the record — didn’t receive the case until Sept. 12. The first court appearance happened two days later.
Carney has never fined the property’s current owner; he opted instead during an Oct. 12 appearance to give Bonkuka 60 days to repair the property, with the threat of demolition if the work was not completed.
Ritter, Bonkuka’s attorney, said his client is interested in selling 149 Arkansas, as well as another property at 133 Reiman St. that’s also currently in Housing Court. Under Bonkuka’s ownership, the Reiman Street property has been the subject of 28 police visits between January 2020 and May 2021, 77 complaints through 311, and 40 housing code violations, resulting in the issuance of 11 adjudication summonses. City records show those penalties have gone unpaid.
Bonkuka owns two other houses at 456 Davey St. and 461 South Ogden St. that have multiple outstanding code violations. Both are for sale; neither is in Housing Court. Three other properties he owns have single outstanding code violations, city records show.
At a November court appearance, Carney told Rivera the city needs to come up with solutions to address blighted properties. Rivera says the court could also be doing more.
“The city has its part in it, but I think the courts also have a great part to deal with it as well, because they’re the arbiters,” Rivera said. “It’s up to the judge to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to fine you,’ or ‘We’re going to issue an order for demolition.’”
The next court appearance for both the Arkansas and Reiman properties will be held Jan. 19.
“I think there is a lot of red tape that the city has with landlords who do not take care of the properties,” Peralta said. “I’m not a councilman, I’m not a part of the city board, so I think it’s up to our representatives to amend whatever statute it is that protects landlords.”
Peralta said Housing Court could bear more responsibility, as well.
“It seems like it’s impossible to get the courts or to get judges to put an end to these abandoned homes in the city.”