What’s the penalty for potentially exposing kids to poisonous paint?
In the case of Attorney General Letitia James against A&E Real Estate, a mere $510,000.
After peering into A&E’s lead paint practices, the attorney general’s office found the city’s fourth-largest landlord, which owns 12,000 apartments, had shirked obligations required by the city’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act.
An investigation launched in 2018 discovered A&E had flubbed on notice requirements and inspections. The landlord failed to ensure tenants had completed notices indicating whether children under 6 — those most susceptible to the neurological damages posed by lead paint — lived there.
A&E also could not prove it had completed yearly inspections of lead-paint hazards where children under 6 lived and did not comply with the law’s requirements when an apartment had been vacated, the probe found.
“A&E’s non-compliance resulted in the potential exposure to lead-based paint hazards, particularly for children under the age of 6,” a release issued by the state’s top law enforcement office said.
The penalty, though, amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist for such a large landlord. In an agreement reached with James, A&E agreed to fully comply with the requirements of the lead poisoning law, including resolving lead paint violations, report to the attorney general’s office regularly on compliance for the next three years and pay the office $510,000.
“I hope this settlement serves to let all property owners know how seriously HPD and the attorney general take lead-based paint compliance,” said Louise Carroll, commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, in a statement.
But compared with other settlements secured by James and lead-paint cases in general, the payout is small potatoes.
- Four more lead-paint laws hit landlords
- Attorney general sues Chestnut Holdings for lead paint
- Landlord groups say lead poisoning laws will hurt affordable housing
The attorney general’s office regularly wrangles millions, hundreds of millions, and even billions of dollars out of alleged wrongdoers. Earlier this month, James secured $4.5 billion from the Sackler family for its role in fueling the opioid crisis.
Some lead paint suits result in seven-figure payouts. The Housing Authority in 2018 paid a Bronx family $57 million after a jury found the agency responsible for a child’s lead poisoning, NBC New York reported. In 2016, Buffalo’s attorney general not only won $334,000 from landlord First National Solution for lead violations, but forced it to forfeit six properties and cease business operations.
A&E, by comparison, owns at least 12,000 units. The Real Deal estimates its portfolio to be worth $2 billion with assets spread across about 100 city buildings.
However, A&E said no actual exposure to lead-based paint was uncovered by James’ investigation. That reduced her leverage to extract a larger penalty.
The firm said that its main failing concerned documenting inspections and communicating with residents who did not return forms, but that it had used the investigation as a way to address those issues.
“We believe that the system we have produced can serve as a model for the entire industry,” A&E said in a statement.
The attorney general’s office did not comment before publication on how it arrived at a settlement amount.