Lead disclosure settlement to affect 10,000-plus apartments

November 21, 2004

Massachusetts landlord agrees to remove hazards, pay fine

Inman News

In one of the largest enforcement actions of its kind, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency today announced a Boston-based real estate company has agreed to remove lead paint hazards from approximately 10,400 apartments in seven states and the District of Columbia, and to pay a monetary penalty.

HUD and EPA claim the company failed to notify its tenants that their homes may contain potentially dangerous amounts of lead. The apartments that will be made lead-safe under this agreement are located in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, New York, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Virginia and the District of Columbia. More than 7,000 apartments are located in Massachusetts alone.

Winn Residential Limited Partnership and its affiliates own and manage more than 235 housing projects across the country. The company agreed to pay a $105,000 civil penalty and to test for and clean up all existing lead-based paint hazards in its units. EPA estimates that the cost of lead abatement projects associated with this settlement are likely to be as high as $3.7 million.

"Today's settlement should remind landlords that they have a legal responsibility to tell their tenants if their homes may harm their children," said Miniard Culpepper, HUD's acting regional director for New England. "This agreement will not only create thousands of healthier homes but (it) will give families the peace of mind to raise their kids without fear of lead poisoning."

In 2001, there were approximately 1,100 children in Boston alone with elevated blood lead levels, according to a press statement. The majority of cases are in the city's lower-income, most diverse neighborhoods.

"Despite the fact that so much can be done to keep kids safe from lead paint, too many are still poisoned in their own homes," said Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly. "This agreement sets the standard for the property management industry and sends the message that, through collaboration, we can make significant strides to protect our children from harm."

Since 2001, Reilly has been working closely with HUD and EPA, as well as the state Department of Public Health, to negotiate two settlements with Winn addressing environmental and civil rights issues. The first, filed by his Environmental Protection Division, mirrors the HUD-EPA settlement and requires the company to comply with the state's lead law. The second, negotiated by the Attorney General's Civil Rights Division, requires the company to put detailed policy and procedures in place to prevent discrimination against families with children under the age of six, who are most vulnerable to lead paint poisoning.

The allegations involve violations of the disclosure requirements of the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992. The Lead Disclosure Rule requires that sellers and landlords of housing constructed prior to 1978 provide each purchaser or tenant with a lead hazard information pamphlet, any information and/or reports concerning lead-based paint hazards in the property and a Lead Warning Statement to be signed by the parties. Additionally, sellers are required to provide purchasers with an opportunity to conduct a lead-based paint evaluation.

Lead exposure causes reduced IQ, learning disabilities, developmental delays, reduced height, poorer hearing and a host of other health problems in young children. Many of these effects are thought to be irreversible. In later years, lead-poisoned children are much more likely to drop out of school, become juvenile delinquents and engage in criminal and other anti-social behavior.

Earlier this year the New England Journal of Medicine published a story on researchers who found that even at low levels, lead exposure in children can significantly impact IQ and even delay puberty in young girls. At higher levels, lead can damage a child's kidneys and central nervous system and cause anemia, coma, convulsions and even death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels has been cut in half since the early 1990s, although the prevalence of childhood lead poisoning in low-income, unassisted older housing remains high. In fact, one in six low-income children living in older housing is believed to be lead poisoned. HUD estimates that the number of houses with lead paint has declined from 64 million in 1990 to 38 million in 2000.

HUD is a federal agency that implements housing policy.

Copyright 2004 Inman News

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