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Tenants worry landlord didn’t get all the lead out of 2 L.E.S. buildings

Tenants expressed their concerns about being exposed to extremely high levels of lead, as they were joined by Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, at right.
Tenants expressed their concerns about being exposed to extremely high levels of lead, as they were joined by Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, at right.

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  City councilmembers and housing activists joined tenants on Dec. 10 to call on landlord Samy Mahfar and the city to better mitigate high levels of lead in two Lower East Side residential buildings.

Testing done at the two buildings in April — 102 Norfolk St. and 210 Rivington St. — indicated lead levels at least five times above federal guidelines. While Mahfar said levels have since decreased to safe readings, his critics say that he must use a contractor certified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for future renovation work, as well as implement a lead mitigation plan in all of his New York City properties.

Renovation work began slightly more than a year ago at 102 Norfolk. Amid the noise and water shutoffs, tenant Seth Wandersman — speaking at the Dec. 10 press conference outside 210 Rivington St. — said he did not initially consider the possibility that the dust covering common areas in the building might be poisoning him.

It took a Freedom of Information Act request and plenty of 311 calls before he and other tenants could find out just how much lead they were being exposed to, he said.

“I suddenly realized that these problems weren’t temporary but could stay with the residents for the rest of our lives,” Wandersman said.

As he spoke to reporters, a man videoing the proceedings caught the eye of Councilmember Rosie Mendez. He said he was working on behalf of the landlord. A brief standoff ensued as Mendez, attempting to block his view, positioned herself between the landlord’s representative and the tenants. The videoing, she said, was just another indication of bad faith from Mahfar, who, according to the Cooper Square Committee, once employed Michel Pimienta, a “tenant-relocation specialist” who was previously investigated by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Pimienta paid a fine and gave up his relocation business in October following the investigation, the Daily News reported.

But if Mahfar does not mend his ways, as well, pressure will increase, Councilmember Margaret Chin stated.

Councilmember Rosie Mendez blocked a representative of landlord Sammy Mahfer from videoing tenants at the press conference.
Councilmember Rosie Mendez blocked a representative of landlord Sammy Mahfer from videoing tenants at the press conference.

“This has to stop,” she warned. “We are calling on Samy Mahfar to do the right thing or else the city agencies are going to go after you.”

The city meanwhile needs to do more to enforce laws already on the books that target buildings built before 1960 as likely in need of lead mitigation, according to Chin, who added that more coordination is necessary among the Department of Buildings, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Reached by telephone, Mahfar said subsequent testing by a private company indicated that lead levels at the two buildings were within legal limits. During renovation work, adequate effort was made to limit dangerous lead exposure, he said.

“We have reports showing that there is no exaggerated levels of lead,” he said on Dec. 16.

He offered to provide a copy of these tests to The Villager, but none were received by press time. During the interview, he could not recall the name of the company that conducted the tests nor the date they were performed.

According to the E.P.A., lead exposure can affect any organ in the human body, stunting cognitive growth in children and decreasing kidney function in adults. Despite a 1978 federal ban on its use, lead-based paint remains one of the most common causes of lead poisoning, according to the agency’s Web site.

Roughly 69 percent of homes built between 1940 and 1959 contain lead-based paint, with the number rising to 87 percent for older residential buildings, according to the E.P.A. Web site.

Issues in the Lower East Side are only part of the overall problem across Manhattan, Borough President Gale Brewer said in a statement.

“I’ve been fighting landlords like Samy Mahfar all over Manhattan,” she said, “ those who refuse to use safe procedures, who harass rent-regulated tenants, and only erractically correct H.P.D. violations.”

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