Mar 1


Demolition threatened for Buffalo’s ‘house from hell’

West Side house remains vacant eyesore and neighborhood nuisance. Its legacy includes 100 police visits and 2 dead bodies. A second West Side property owned by same person also creating problems.

Over a year after two dead bodies were found in a boarded-up Arkansas Street house, a city court judge is once again calling for demolition of the property. 

Meanwhile, the owner is now facing similar issues with a burned-out house he owns in a different West Side neighborhood. 

His attorney says Kwayo Ithe Bonkuka could afford to fix the problem properties if he gets back $80,000 he paid for a city-owned house, but never received ownership of.

“If we enter into an agreement, money will be transferred back for properties,” attorney Daniel Tarantino said in a recent Housing Court appearance.

Bonkuka’s latest dealings in court – where Tarantino appeared in his stead last week – were for a property that building inspectors called “demo-worthy.” The house, located at 58 Maryland St., caught fire on Feb. 5 and inspectors said there’s suspected drug activity among squatters.

It’s unclear whether the house was inhabited before the fire, but it now appears to be vacant with significant damage to its exterior and multiple windows completely missing.

Judge Patrick Carney is suggesting demolition.

The house doesn’t appear to have been as bad as some of Bonkuka’s other holdings. It had nine code violations from 2020 to 2022, ranging from overgrown weeds to deterioration of siding and gutters. All of the violations have either been closed or complied with. 

Carney said at the hearing that 149 Arkansas St., which led to numerous complaints from neighbors – along with three dozen code violations, over 100 police visits and two dead bodies –  would also be ordered torn down in a matter of weeks if the building owner doesn’t make needed repairs.

A case of déjà vu

The alleged cases of drug use at the fire-damaged Maryland Street house are reminiscent of those at the house on Arkansas, which drew attention in 2022 after two overdose deaths occurred there within a week. That house is still causing problems for neighboring residents, and if Bonkuka doesn’t arrange substantial repairs within 60 days, the house will be demolished, the judge said.

Some residents say they’ve heard this before, like Wilmer Peralta, who called police when the stench of a dead body in the house infiltrated the neighborhood in 2022. He recalled the same warning being issued in court two years ago following the second overdose death at the vacant house. He even thought repairs indicated that the house would finally be rented out at one point, but it remains vacant to this day.

“I think it is a quick way out for the owner to avoid the judgment of the court to get demolished. Just show up with a crew, fix it for a couple of days, then forget about it again. It’s not an efficient way to do things, in my opinion,” Peralta said.

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Peralta said work hasn’t been done on the house since last July, but that it hasn’t been as much of a nuisance to neighbors, thanks to newly installed street lights that have slowed down activity from squatters. But it’s still a dumping ground for trash.

“Everyone at nighttime figures it’s an abandoned home, they just put garbage in front of the house,” he said. 

“We have to call 311 to come clean it up because no one cleans it and all the garbage is just bursting through the street. It’s just a mess.”

Slumlord or victim of buyer’s remorse?

Not much is known about Bonkuka, but Tarantino said he’s an African immigrant living in France with limited English proficiency. Property records list local addresses for him in Williamsville and Buffalo.

This language barrier, his attorney said, was the reason Bonkuka allegedly paid the city about $80,000 for a house at 92 Dewitt St., but never received ownership. That house is still owned by the city, according to property records. 

“My client has been treated extremely unfairly by the city,” Tarantino said in court, arguing the alleged sale was “not an arms-length transaction.”

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As of now, there are no public records that show any involvement of Bonkuka with the Dewitt Street house.

Tarantino says Bonkuka wants to use that money to fix up the properties he currently has in Housing Court.

Carney advised Tarantino that he and his client take the matter to the State Supreme Court.

In addition to the Arkansas and Maryland houses, Bonkuka has three other properties in Housing Court as well, according to Open Data Buffalo records. Two of them were sold last April, however. 

He still owns a total of five houses in Buffalo, according to city and county real estate records.

Peralta expressed frustration in knowing that the same owner of his neighborhood’s troubled property owns another house in the city causing similar problems in another neighborhood. He said the city has to find a better way to deal with troublesome property owners – whether through property tax hikes or demolitions – because residents are suffering at their expense.

“As homeowners, we do so much to make sure the front of our houses are clean because we care about the community,” he said. 

“If I didn’t care about the community or see that this community can be prosperous, I would’ve left, but I stayed and I decided to continue making 311 complaints, which I think go into a black hole because nothing ever happens.”

Investigative Post reached out to both city spokesman Mike DeGeorge and Tarantino, Bonkuka’s attorney, for comment about the alleged Dewitt Street transaction. Neither have responded.

Investigative Post

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