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"Uninhabitable" conditions for Buffalo renters, more tenants come forward

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Posted at 6:20 PM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-08 18:21:02-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Since 7 Problem Solvers first exposed issues between a tenant and her landlord, Preischel Realty, more tenants of other Preischel Properties have reached out to 7 News, desperate for help.

One emailer described similar issues with rats in the unit. Another emailer said there is black mold growing in the kitchen and bathroom of the unit where her elderly parents live. And yet another emailer called Preischel Realty "ruthless."

After viewing images of a couple of the properties in question, attorney Justin Friedman, who specializes in landlord-tenant law and often represents landlords in housing court, says the conditions are unacceptable for human living.

"I thought the pictures demonstrated that the premises were uninhabitable, and that the landlord is in violation of the implied warranty of habitability," said Friedman.

Joe Preischel, owner of Preischel Realty, says his properties have never been in housing court and hopes to connect with the tenants who reached out to 7 News to remedy their issues.

Friedman says tenants have a right to a livable home, and if a landlord has been unresponsive or negligent in remedying issues to the point that the property is no longer livable, the tenant ought to withhold rend.

"Whether or not it's laid out in the rental agreement, there's an implied warranty that the landlord will provide premises for human habitation. And if they're not, the tenant can withhold rent," said Friedman.

But there can be a consequence of withholding rent. The landlord could take the renter to court, which could potentially result in the renter being told to move out of the property.

"Often we can achieve a positive resolution. Unfortunately, right now there seems to be a big push towards getting tenants to move if the relationship with the landlord is not working out and that's very problematic in this housing market," said Grace Andriette, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services.

In addition to withholding rent, attorneys advise reporting the home's conditions to the county health department and Buffalo building inspectors.

"If the landlord were to institute eviction proceedings, whether based on nonpayment or holdover, there is a presumption of retaliation, that the reason the landlord is doing it is because the tenant brought to the attention of the authorities that there's a problem with the premises," said Friedman.

Groups like the Volunteer Lawyers Project and Neighborhood Legal Services provide pro bono legal representation for people who need legal representation but cannot afford an attorney.

Andriette says the pandemic has strained the relationship between landlords and tenants, in part because of the eviction moratorium that prevented landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent. The moratorium has expired, but many tenants are still struggling to pay rent and have few options if they want to leave their current living situation.

"It's particularly bad now because so many people are in a position where retaining their homes, keeping their homes is challenging and landlords are attempting to recoup losses by increasing rent," said Andriette.

Andriette believes there must be more financial support for both tenants and landlords, and argues that Western New York needs more affordable, quality housing.