For years, lead-contaminated construction dust has inflicted serious harm on tenants in apartments throughout New York City. Lead is a highly toxic metal that was commonly used in interior and exterior paints prior to 1978. Exposure to lead can cause significant developmental defects in young children, including speech impairments and cognitive deficits. Children become lead poisoned when they ingest lead particles, either by consuming paint chips that contain lead or by inhaling lead paint dust. A routine blood test at a doctor’s office can reveal the presence of lead in a child’s system.
Unfortunately, New York families are often unaware of the existence of lead, or the threat it poses until it is too late. The failure of building owners to perform proper lead inspections, or to disclose the presence of lead to tenants, has caused many families to suffer the devastating effects of lead poisoning. While New York officials are beginning to focus on the issue of lead-based paint in public housing, tenants from the Lead Dust Free NYC coalition (“LDFNYC”) are urging officials to take action against landlords that contaminate buildings with lead dust during construction. According to reports from the NYC Department of Health (“DOH”), landlords including Icon Realty, Steve Croman, Samy Mahfar, and Raphael Toledono have all exposed their tenants to dangerous lead dust. Indeed results of tests performed during DOH inspections revealed dust containing extremely high concentrations of lead inside apartment units, as well as in common areas like hallways and stairwells.
New York City’s main weapon against irresponsible landlords is Local Law 1 of 2004, which requires landlords to identify and fix lead paint hazards in the apartments of young children. Unfortunately, many aspects of this law are currently either being under-enforced or not enforced at all. Additionally, regulations passed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), as well as the Department of Environmental Protection (“EPA”), require the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) to perform inspections to ensure that children in roughly 200,000 public housing apartments are protected from lead.
On June 11, 2018, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a complaint alleging that NYCHA violated these requirements and mislead the Federal Government, as well as NYCHA’s tenants. In a recently filed consent decree, NYCHA admitted that the allegations were true. Among other failures, NYCHA conceded that:
Since at least 2010, NYCHA has not performed most of the biennial lead paint risk assessment reevaluations required by regulation for developments containing lead paint.
Furthermore, NYCHA admitted that certifications to HUD contained “untrue representations” that NYCHA was in compliance with regulatory requirements. As a result of NYCHA’s violations and subsequent cover-up, families and children in its public housing apartments became lead poisoned. In response, individual and class action lawsuits focused on making up for the harm NYCHA caused have been filed.
In addition, City Council has taken up new legislation which would strengthen existing laws and provide new protections. Introduced in May of 2018, this new package of bills would require the City to conduct more thorough investigations when children test positive for high blood lead levels, including investigating the exposed child’s school or daycare, as well as parks and play areas. Councilwoman Carlina Rivera stated that “[l]ead exposure has been at the forefront of recent local news; however, this issue goes far beyond the public housing crisis we’ve been reading about. Lead dust is hurting the health of New Yorkers and our most vulnerable populations – landlords must be held accountable.”
On September 27th at 10 a. m., City Council will hold a hearing on the new proposed legislation. Corey Stern, a partner at Levy Konigsberg and “Lead Counsel” for families poisoned in the Flint Water Crisis, has been invited to testify and provide his insight. It is his hope that New York landlords, including NYCHA, will be held accountable for their wrongdoing and, most importantly, take steps to ensure that no more children are exposed to dangerous lead.