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State AG says to Bronx property manager ‘get the lead out’ or go to court

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. photographed in February. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

A Bronx-based property manager is being sued by the state Attorney General for failing to comply with the provisions of the New York City’s lead poisoning prevention law.

The company, Chestnut Holdings of New York Inc., are accused of “putting the health of its tenants at risk by repeatedly violating the New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning prevention Act.” The act requires property owners to take several measure to prevent children under six years old from being exposed to paint with dangerously high levels of lead.

In the lawsuit, Attorney General Letitia James is seeking “injunctive relief” requiring Chestnut to comply with the law, including bringing all apartments into compliance with the Act’s requirements, penalties for its repeated violations an disgorgement of money it would have expended to comply with the act.”

James said lead poisoning is a serious problem with the highest percentage of buildings built before 1950 in the nation. She said lead was found in 43% of all New York 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 eating lead paint chips, breaking or swallowing dust from old lead pain on floors, window sills and hands. Children exposed can be at risk for neurological and psychical problems and those issues impact mostly children of color and those living in high poverty communities.

The Lead Poisoning Prevention act required 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 with they occur.

James held a press conference with residents of 1515 Macombs Road, one of the buildings run by Chestnut. She said despite repeated requests for data and confirmation of lead abatement, Chestnut failed to comply and ignored their requests.

“They gave us no choice but to file a lawsuit to get them to comply with the law,” James said.

Chestnut Holdings manages more than 6,000 apartments in about 134 buildings, most of them located in the Bronx. James joined Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and officials from the NYC Housing Preservation and Development, including several inspectors who were prepared to take filings from tenants. Some tenants requested inspections for other violations that had been ongoing and not addressed.

“Exposure to lead paint in our Aging housing stock puts children in grave jeopardy and our future at risk,” she said. This highly toxic metal causes serious and irreversible harms and I am committed to ensuring that landlords follow the laws ti protect young children.”

Diaz was equally steadfast in protecting residents from lead.

“I am proud to stand with attorney general Letitia James to fight for Bronx residents and to stand with all New Yorker’s to demand that landlords and management companies treat their tenants with the respect and dignity they deserve,” Diaz said.

Chestnut issued a statement that reads:

Chestnut Holdings of New York, Inc. has been one of New York’s most reputable and honest

landlords for over 25 years. It has fully and completely cooperated with the Attorney General’s

Office in its lead-paint investigation. It produced thousands of pages of documents and information, and continued to offer more evidence of compliance. Chestnut fully complies with all lead laws and addresses any lead issues immediately. The building in front of which the Attorney General selected to announce the lead lawsuit, 1515 Macombs Road, has exactly zero lead violations.

The lack of even a single lead violation in 1515 Macombs Rd may explain Ms. James’ statement today that “So, at this point in time we don’t have any evidence of children being sick.” Her statement casts significant doubt upon the quality of the investigation.

Any time Chestnut becomes aware of lead conditions, they are immediately remediated. All laws and regulations are followed to the letter. Chestnut exceeds any reasonable standards in inspecting its units and trying to address all safety concerns, especially the presence of lead. Sadly, the AG’s press conference deflects responsibility from addressing this city’s real lead issues.

Chestnut’s strong safety record speaks to its commitment to all of its tenants, its communities, and its neighbors, but most especially children. Chestnut and its leadership devote extraordinary time, funding, and resources to charities and programs throughout New York, especially children’s educational and art charities. The health and safety of its tenants is, and always has been, Chestnut’s number one priority.

With no evidence of any sickened children or the presence of any unremediated lead conditions,

the AG is forced to make broad and press-worthy claims to imply, without proof, that there are dangerous conditions. This is especially concerning because the AG’s office previously told Chestnut of several sickened children only to later admit it had no evidence, information, or facts to support the accusation. Chestnut is considering its options including a possible lawsuit for harassment and defamation.  Nathaniel Ari Weisbrot, Esq.

In addition, no apartments were available to be seen by the media with peeling paint.

 

HPD inspectors took reports and complaints from residents of 1515 Macombs Road. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

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