Thursday, September 23, 2021

Attorney General James Takes Action to Protect Children and Families from Lead Poisoning in NYC


Chestnut Holdings Will Pay $300,000 for OAG Programs to Protect Children From Lead Poisoning, Ensure All Apartments Are Fully Compliant With NYC Lead Laws 

Second Major Action by AG James in a Week to Protect NYC Children From Lead Paint, Hold Bad Landlords Accountable  

 New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced an agreement in her lawsuit against Chestnut Holdings of New York, Inc. (Chestnut Holdings), a property management corporation, over its failures to protect children from lead paint hazards in New York City. The lawsuit, filed in February 2020, alleged that Chestnut Holdings put the health of its tenants, primarily children, at risk by repeatedly violating New York City’s lead poisoning prevention laws, which require landlords to take critical measures to prevent children under 6 years old from being exposed to paint with dangerously high levels of lead. Chestnut Holdings will pay $300,000 to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for initiatives to protect children from lead poisoning and ensure that all of its more than 6,000 apartments throughout New York City are in full compliance with the law.

“Every New Yorker — especially children living in our most disadvantaged communities — has a right to live a healthy life without the threat of lead paint poisoning,” said Attorney General James. “As a landlord to thousands of children and families, Chestnut failed to safeguard its tenants, but, today, we are ensuring their health will be protected moving forward. I will continue to do everything within my power to uphold our lead laws and hold landlords accountable for exposing our communities to serious and irreversible harms.”

“As a part of LeadFreeNYC, HPD is committed to keeping children safe from lead through enhanced enforcement, education, and resources for property owners to make good on their obligations,” said New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Louise Carroll. “We will continue to pursue enforcement through our own litigation and with partners like the attorney general, who utilize the work of our inspectors and lead-based paint enforcement teams to identify and audit buildings where lead-based paint regulations are not followed. I hope this settlement serves to let all property owners know how seriously HPD and the attorney general take lead-based paint compliance and encourages them to find out more about how to properly comply.”

The agreement was jointly filed by Attorney General James and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in the Supreme Court of New York, Bronx County for final approval. Any future violation of the law by Chestnut Holdings will violate the agreement and subject the company to possible legal action by the OAG.

Chestnut Holdings manages more than 6,000 apartments in approximately 134 buildings, most of which are located predominantly in low-income communities of color in the Bronx. The OAG’s investigation into Chestnut began in 2018 and determined that the company engaged in repeated violations of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, including failing to inspect apartments to determine if a child under 6 years of age lives there, failing to conduct complete annual investigations of apartments for hazards that are conducive to lead poisoning, and failing to take the necessary measures when an apartment turns over. Additionally, Chestnut Holdings repeatedly certified, in new leases, that it had complied with the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act’s turnover requirements, even though it had not done so.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause serious and irreversible adverse health effects. Children who have been exposed to even very low levels of lead are at risk for neurological and physical problems during critical stages of early development. In fact, no safe lead level in children has been identified. Children under 6 years of age are more likely to be exposed to lead than any other age group, as their normal behaviors could result in them chewing lead paint chips; breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors, window sills, and hands; and can be found in soil, toys, and other consumer products. Lead poisoning in New York City is highest among children of color and children living in high-poverty neighborhoods; low-income children represent 66 percent, and Asian, Black, and Latino children represent 84 percent, of children under 6 in the city with elevated lead levels.

Lead paint in residential housing has been a pervasive problem for decades, particularly in New York. Beginning in the 20th century, paint with dangerously high levels of lead was used on both exterior and interior surfaces of housing in the United States. Lead paint has been found in approximately 43 percent of all of New York dwellings. In 1960, New York City prohibited the sale of paint with high levels of lead for residential use, New York state imposed a state-wide ban in 1970, and the federal government banned lead in paint in 1978. The vast majority of older, painted buildings contain some paint with lead levels higher than these bans allow. The New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act requires owners of apartments and houses built before 1960 to take critical safety measures to prevent lead poisoning in children tenants.

The agreement announced today requires Chestnut Holdings to comply with the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, including bringing all apartments into compliance with the law’s provisions that it was found to have violated during the OAG’s investigation. Specifically, the agreement requires Chestnut Holdings to:

  • Determine in which of its apartments children under 6 live;
  • Conduct an annual investigation for lead paint hazards in all of its apartments where children under 6 live;
  • Resolve any and all lead paint hazards identified in these inspections within 90 days of the annual investigation; and
  • Inspect for and remediate any and all lead paint hazards when tenants vacate apartments.  

Chestnut Holdings will also pay $300,000 to the OAG to fund projects that help protect children from lead poisoning. The penalty amount is based on the extent of violations determined through the OAG’s investigation.  

This is the second major action that Attorney General 

James has taken in the past week to hold landlords accountable for failing to comply with New York City’s lead paint laws. Last week, she reached a pre-suit agreement with A&E Holdings to ensure that children living in its NYC apartments are protected from dangerous lead-based paint.

Attorney General James thanks HPD for its assistance in this and other related ongoing investigations. Attorney General James also thanks the City of New York and New York state's Homes and Community Renewal for their assistance with data collection during this investigation.

“Some of the worst landlords in our city put the health and safety of New Yorkers at risk to protect their own profits, and Chestnut Holdings is near the top of my office's list,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “I thank the attorney general for pursuing justice and reaching this settlement on behalf of tenants who have faced dangerous conditions as a result of Chestnut Holdings' negligence, and am glad to see that, as a result, more children and families can be protected against hazards in their homes.”

“New York City’s landmark Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention law is key to ending the enduring devastation of lead in our communities,” said Matthew Chachère, attorney, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. “But, far too many New York City landlords continue to ignore their obligations under the law and expose our children to wholly-preventable lead-based paint hazards. I applaud Attorney General James’ ongoing efforts to enforce the city’s lead law and hold landlords that violate this law accountable.” 

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