May 2


West Side property still the ‘House From Hell’

149 Arkansas Street – the house where two dead bodies were found nearly two years ago – continues to attract troublesome activity, according to neighbors.

149 Arkansas Street on Buffalo’s West Side. Photo by Garrett Looker.

Almost two years after two dead bodies were found in a boarded-up West Side house, the property remains a nuisance that continues to attract squatters, drug users and prostitutes, neighbors told Investigative Post. 

Complaints to the city, including to police, the Common Council and Housing Court seem to be falling on deaf ears, neighbors said this week. 

“I’m losing my patience,” said Arkansas Street resident Wilmer Peralta. “It’s been two years. The house is still vacant. What are they doing?”

The boarded-up house at 149 Arkansas St., owned by Kwayo Ithe Bonkuka, has been cited by the city for more than three dozen code violations, some going back to 2016 and one as recent as January of this year. 

Investigative Post first wrote about the house in December 2022, after two dead bodies were found inside, both believed to be drug overdoses. 

Police had been called to the property 107 times from mid 2019 through 2022, Investigative Post reported. 

While updated police response figures were not immediately available, the city’s 311 system received six complaints against the house in the past few days, records show. In addition, Peralta said squatters were screaming from the Arkansas Street house last weekend, prompting neighbors to call police. Police came but squatters remain in the house even though there remains an active order to vacate on the property, he said.

The incident, he said, occurred the same weekend that a man believed to be squatting in a Zenner Street house on the East Side allegedly shot and killed two men hired to do repairs on the property.

Peralta said police were also called twice on Tuesday evening. He said squatters in the Arkansas Street house were fighting so loudly they were disrupting the neighbors.

While the property owner has installed a new roof and aluminum siding at the house over the past year or so, the work hasn’t addressed the larger concerns the vacant house presents, Peralta said.

With squatters inside, residents believe prostitution as well as illegal drug use are occuring, he said.

“They’re definitely using, because when they come out, they come out high as a kite,” he said. “As a parent, I don’t want my kid to be watching those kinds of things and I don’t want my kid to be outside running, playing, and there’s needles on the ground.”

Peralta said he recently tried contacting Niagara District Councilmember David Rivera’s office,  but hasn’t received a response.

“We are frustrated and angry that our community’s quality of life continues to be compromised due to the city’s inaction on this property,” Peralta wrote in an email to Rivera, a copy of which Peralta gave to Investigative Post.

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Rivera has been involved in past neighborhood efforts regarding 149 Arkansas, but told Investigative Post this week he wasn’t aware of these most recent concerns. Rivera said he’s frustrated that neither Housing Court nor the city Department of Permits and Inspections have done more to hold Bonkuka accountable.

“Sometimes the city has to babysit his property,” Rivera said, noting that City Hall has boarded up the property in the past. The city should consider fining Bonkuka for the cost of the work, he said.

“My experience with Permits and Inspections is, once in a while, we just almost have to ask them, please write it up for court so we can get before the judge,” Rivera said. 

Bonkuka’s Arkansas Street property is already in city Housing Court.

An attorney appeared in Housing Court in late April representing Bonkuka for another property he owns, at 58 Maryland St. That house caught fire in February, and inspectors during the court hearing said there was suspected drug activity among squatters there. Building inspectors called the building “demo-worthy.”

Housing Court Judge Patrick Carney threatened demolition if the owner did not arrange substantial repairs to the house within two months.

Carney said at the time that 149 Arkansas St. would also be torn down if the building owner didn’t make needed repairs.

Both cases were adjourned until August.

Investigative Post reporters visited both the Maryland and Arkansas street properties on Wednesday and found the Maryland Street house was recently demolished.

The empty lot at 58 Maryland Street where a house was recently demolished. Photo by Garrett Looker.

As for the Arkansas Street property, windows and frames were still deteriorated and most of the windows remained boarded up. The grass was overgrown with weeds.

Peralta said the handling of 149 Arkansas St. in court has been ineffective.

“The judge orders [Bonkuka] to fix it, he has 60 days to fix it, the owner brings a crew for a week or two, pretends to fix the house, then the housing court doesn’t do anything,” Peralta said.

Rivera said the house illustrates the city’s issues with squatters.

“I just met with somebody yesterday regarding squatters because of the killing that happened on the East Side,” Rivera said, referring to the Zenner Street shootings. “I had asked the judge to do an order to vacate last time [for 149 Arkansas St.] for the police to be able to go in and kick people out … but if they’re back in there, we have to get another order to vacate,” he said.

Peralta said the squatting issue on the street recently expanded beyond 149 Arkansas. A squatter allegedly broke into a house next door to the vacant property after tenants moved out nearly five months ago.

“Someone broke into the basement,” Peralta said. “The guys that were working on the house had to chase him out and call the cops.”

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Bonkuka or his lawyer are scheduled to appear in Housing Court for 149 Arkansas St. and three other properties on August 1. Both Peralta and Rivera said they plan to be there.

In addition to the Arkansas and Maryland street houses, Bonkuka owns Buffalo properties at 277 Hudson St. and 88 Royal Ave. that have active housing violations, according to city records.

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

Investigative Post reached out to Carney and Tarantino as well as Buffalo Police spokesman Michael DeGeorge and Catherine Amdur, commissioner for the city’s Department of Permits and Inspections. None responded.

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