Sunday, June 21, 2015

One NYC Landlord Accused Of Creating Toxic Hazards In Effort To Drive Out Long-Time Rent Regulated Tenants; Blasting Layers Of Toxic Lead Based Paint From Walls, Raising Levels Of Tainted Dust To Nearly 3,000 Acceptable Level During Renovations Among Tactics Allegedly Used To Displace Residents Paying Below-Market Rents

In New York City, The Villager reports:
  • Beleaguered tenants from four Lower East Side buildings recently announced three additional lawsuits in Housing Court against landlord Samy Mahfar of SMA Equities.

    Outfitted in a hazmat suit to protest the hazardous conditions he said he has faced, one tenant from 211 Rivington St. described living under siege-like conditions. He said unprotected workers had blasted layers of paint off tenement walls, raising dust tainted with dangerous levels of lead-based paint. [...] Lab tests on air quality during construction at another Mahfar-owned building revealed lead levels “nearly 3,000 times the federal threshold,” tenants said.(1)
    ***

    The Mahfar Tenants Coalition also claims that guards were posted at one building’s entrance to block Department of Buildings inspectors from investigating complaints, and that they were successful all but once in turning D.O.B. personnel away.

    Dust levels got so bad at one building that children were hospitalized following asthma attacks. Their mother also ended up getting sick due to having no heat for a month during construction, tenants said.

    As if the hazardous conditions weren’t bad enough, there were also frivolous lawsuits, the coalition charged. These were used to drive terrified tenants out of their units, which were quickly put back on the market at rents up to five times their original value.

    Repairs were not made, except in renovated apartments, according to the coalition.

    A speaker from another Mahfar-owned building, 22 Spring St., vividly recalled what happened after Mahfar took over: The lead-dust levels rose, a phone line was cut, and the relocation specialists turned up, stressful enough to allegedly cause one tenant to suffer a heart attack, prompting her to leave.

    Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin praised the tenants’ courage in bringing the lawsuits. Chin called for greater coordination between the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings, the latter which, she said, needs comprehensive reform.

    Chin questioned why D.O.H. is not working with D.O.B. to ensure that proper procedures for lead-paint removal, for example, are being followed.

    State Senator Daniel Squadron demanded change in Albany and the end of vacancy decontrol, which he said offers incentive for landlords to harass rent-protected tenants.

    Garrett Wright, a senior staff attorney with the Urban Justice Center, which filed the three lawsuits in Housing Court, said the process favors wealthy landlords, who can afford expensive attorney fees.

    Tenants, Wright said, often end up “so scared, they will wind up leaving the apartment without going to court because they are afraid of being hit with attorney fees and costs, and landlords know that.toxicity
For more, see Mahfar tenants file more suits over conditions.

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(1) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") requires that firms performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes (as well as child care facilities and pre-schools) built before 1978 have their firm certified by EPA (or an EPA authorized state), use certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers and follow lead-safe work practices.

For an example where the EPA clipped one landlord with a $54,000 fine for failing to do so, see Stamford, Conn. Property Management Firm to Pay Fine and Take Measures to Protect Children from Lead-Based Paint in EPA Settlement.

Go here for links to examples of landlords getting hammered by the EPA for tripping over the federal lead paint rules, and here to file a complaint reporting violations with EPA.

Go here for EPA Lead Paint Renovation Compliance Guide for landlords, property managers, contractors, and maintenance personnel working in homes and child-occupied facilities built before 1978.

Editor's Note: It's not unheard of for a landlord to get sentenced with jail time for violating EPA's lead paint rules. See Baltimore City Landlord Sentenced to Prison for Lead Paint Violations in Rental Properties He Owns and Manages (Previously Cited by the State for Numerous Lead Paint Violations and Documented Children with Elevated Lead Blood Levels Living in His Properties).

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