Landlord catches tenant bilking HEAP system

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Neighbors told Jim Kistner, the residential manager of a home on Schmarbeck Avenue, that his tenant was asking them to buy an air conditioner.

Kistner said he found that strange, considering his tenant had just received a free unit through the states HEAP program.

So we decided to check his home’s surveillance system.

“I saw a delivery going into the building and I was curious,” Kistner said. “I was more concerned about the amperage on the machine, because I didn’t want it to overpower the building.”

Jim’s tenant is a recipient of a free air conditioner through the state’s HEAP program. To qualify for HEAP, recipients must meet income guidelines and be able to prove they have a medical condition with a note or paperwork from a doctor.

Kistner’s surveillance system clearly records the installer from Emerald Heating and Cooling bringing the air conditioner inside, the unit is still in the box.

“Less than an hour later, the tenant de-installed (sic) it, loaded it into a taxi cab and sold it,” he said. “I spoke to a couple of people in the neighborhood, and the recipient had tried to sell it to them.”

“The benefit of the air conditioner didn’t last very long,” he said.

Representatives from Emerald Heating and Cooling in Depew confirmed Kistner’s story. They said it’s unfortunate, but it does happen. After they do their job, there’s no way to check up on HEAP recipients.

“We need clawbacks,” Kistner said. “We need to be able to say, well, we think you’re deserving, and we’ll give it to you. But when it’s found out that you’ve abused it, you need to be able to recover it, and recover it quickly. Just as quickly as you gave it, you should be able to get it back.

“If you need something, we’ll get it for you, and then if you go out and you sell that thing, how is that not fraud?” he said.

Erie County’s Department of Social Services, which administers the local HEAP program, investigates fraud. All it takes is a formal complaint to get the process started, either in written form or via the county’s fraud hotline.

The county’s fraud hotline is (716) 858-1886. Residents can also send an email to this address, or visit the website.

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