New York Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday announced a lawsuit against Chestnut Holdings of New York, Inc., a property management corporation, for failing to comply with provisions of New York City’s lead poisoning prevention law. The suit alleges that Chestnut Holdings has put the health of its tenants at risk by repeatedly violating the New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, which requires property owners to take several critical measures to prevent children under six from being exposed to paint with dangerously high levels of lead.
“All New Yorkers – in every city, village, and town across this state – have a right to live in homes that don’t make them sick,” said Attorney General James. “Exposure to lead paint in our aging housing stock puts children in grave jeopardy and our future at risk. This highly toxic metal causes serious and irreversible harms, and I am committed to ensuring that landlords follow the laws to protect young children from lead poisoning.”
Chestnut Holdings manages more than 6,000 apartments in approximately 134 buildings, most of which are located in the Bronx.
“This administration has made it clear that landlords who disregard their responsibilities and put tenants in danger will not fly under the radar. Through the Mayor’s LeadFreeNYC initiative, we will continue to work with our partners on all levels of government to keep New Yorkers safe and drive lead exposure down to zero,” said NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Louise Carroll. “I commend the New York State Attorney General for taking this action, and thank my team at HPD, along with our colleagues throughout the city and state who work day in, day out to protect the people we serve.”
“All New Yorkers deserve safe homes, free of the dangers of lead poisoning,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. “I am proud to stand with Attorney General Letitia James to fight for Bronx residents and to stand with all New Yorkers to demand that landlords and management companies treat their tenants with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
“Exposure to lead has devastating consequences for all those exposed, but it is particularly dangerous for young developing children,” said New York State Senator José M. Serrano. “I would like to thank Attorney General Letitia James for her commitment to the health and safety of families across our state, and for ensuring that all landlords provide safe, healthy, lead-free housing that is in full compliance with our laws.”
“It is our responsibility to ensure the health and wellness of our families in New York City,” said New York City Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “As we have seen with the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, lead can pose a serious safety issue with devastating effects on our most vulnerable populations. We must continue to ensure that landlords are in compliance with the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act and continue to promote this important law. I want to thank Attorney General Letitia James and her team for their ongoing commitment, consistency, swift action, and thorough investigation into this important issue.”
“A key premise of the lead law in 2004 was to make it clear that landlords had the prime responsibility to make sure the apartments they rent do not have lead-based paint hazards,” said Matthew Chachère, attorney, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. and one of the advocates who helped write the current New York City lead law. “Unfortunately, some landlords have ignored that responsibility with impunity.”
“New York Lawyers for the Public Interest supports Attorney General Letitia James’ office’s action today to protect families from toxic lead exposure through enforcement of New York City’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, Local Law 1 of 2004,” said Christine Appah, senior staff attorney, Environmental Justice Program, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “This case will help our call for stronger enforcement of the key provisions of the law that were designed to remove lead from the environment before people are exposed to this neurotoxin. These include annual inspections and ensuring that an apartment is code compliant when a tenant moves into their new home. New York has some of the strongest lead poisoning prevention measures in the country, but without enforcement, families will continue to suffer. We must prevent exposure to lead by taking bold and consistent steps to protect families.”
“We thank New York Attorney General Letitia James for bringing this significant lawsuit,” said Sonal Jessel, policy and advocacy coordinator, WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “The passage of the New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act in 2004 made it possible to systematically and equitably erase lead hazards in housing across the city and promised to end childhood lead poisoning by 2010. However, it is 2020 and we still have thousands of cases of New York City children that tested positive for lead poisoning, and it is children from low-income communities and communities of color, like those we represent in Northern Manhattan, that suffer the most. There is no excuse for landlords failing to abide by the law and protect the health of their tenants.”
The New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act requires owners of apartments and houses built before 1960 to take critical safety measures such as identifying apartments where children under six live, conducting annual investigations of those apartments for hazards that are conducive to lead poisoning, and remediating those conditions where they occur. The Act also requires owners and agents to take measures to prevent lead poisoning when an apartment turns over.
Today’s complaint alleges that Chestnut Holdings engaged in repeated illegal acts under Executive Law § 63(12) violating several provisions of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, including failing to inspect apartments to determine if a child under six 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 has repeatedly certified in new leases that it has complied with the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act’s turnover requirements, even though it had not done so. In the lawsuit, the Attorney General seeks injunctive relief requiring Chestnut Holdings to comply with the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, including bringing all apartments into compliance with the Act’s requirements, penalties for its repeated violations of the Act, and disgorgement of money it would have expended to comply with the Act.
Lead poisoning is a serious and immediate problem, particularly in New York. New York State has the highest percentage of buildings built before 1950 in the nation. In fact, lead paint has been found in approximately 43 percent of all of New York’s dwellings. Children under six 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. Children who have been exposed during critical stages of early development to even very low levels of lead are at risk for neurological and physical problems. Lead poisoning in New York City is highest among children of color and children living in high-poverty neighborhoods.
Attorney General James thanks the City of New York and the New York State Homes and Community Renewal for their assistance with data collection during the investigation.
This matter is being handled by Attorney General James’ Environmental Protection Bureau by Assistant Attorney General Abigail Rosner, Special Counsel Sara Haviva Mark, Assistant Attorney General Samantha Liskow, Deputy Bureau Chief Monica Wagner, Chief Scientist Jodi Feld, Environmental Scientist Jennifer Nalbone, Environmental Science Intern Jeffrey Fralick, and Amanda Moody, Legal Assistant II, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. Senior Data Analyst Akram Hasanov, Intern Atharv Khatu, and Director of Research and Analytics Jonathan Werberg also assisted with this matter. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.
Photos of the press conference announcing the lawsuit can be found here.