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Here's what your landlord has to do if your child tests positive for lead

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Question:

My 4-year-old daughter tested positive for lead at our pediatrician's office. What does my landlord have to do?

Answer:

In New York City, a landlord's responsibilities are pretty clear when it comes to dealing with lead, say our experts.

Attorney Matthew Chachere explains that "the landlord's duty to abate lead is there regardless of lead level... but if a child tests at 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, the Health Department is mandated to inspect and order an abatement." The Health Department, he adds, "also has discretion to inspect at lower blood lead levels, and will often do so at 10 and above." 

Now, generally speaking, it's not illegal to have lead traces in a building, and most buildings of a certain age are presumed to have lead in the paint, explains Samuel Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (he is a Brick Underground sponsor). In fact, it wasn't until 1960 that the city passed a law banning lead-based paint in residential buildings, and many buildings built up until 1978 may have lead paint.

"It's only illegal if there's paint that's peeling or deteriorating, and if there's a child under six in the home," Himmelstein says. The reason: Very young kids are more likely to ingest lead paint chips.

The NYC lead paint law, passed in 2004, requires landlords to inspect rental apartments annually for lead if children under six live in them. That's why, when you sign a lease, you also have to fill out a form saying whether there children of that age living in your home. If any areas need to be repainted because of exposed lead, you can demand that your landlord hire a professional painter certified in lead paint remediation, and they're on the hook for the costs.

Plus, if you have to relocate during the remediation process, the landlord needs to compensate you for your relocation, according to Chachere. That's a good thing, because, as Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage says (Gotham is a Brick sponsor), renter's insurance will not cover costs for lead paint remediation or for relocation required because of the remediation. 

There is a caveat to all of this.

"In general, New York's lead paint law only applies to multiple dwellings, which are buildings with three or more units," says Himmelstein.  Plus, according to the city, the same rules do not apply "in a dwelling unit in a building where title is held by a cooperative or condominium and the shareholder of record or his or her family occupies the unit." However, if you're a renter renting in a co-op or condo, you are covered. 

Now, assuming you live in a building with three or more units, "Let the landlord know what's going on," Himmelstein advises. "If the landlord refuses to do anything about it, you call 311, and they'll notify the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, who will come and do an inspection. If the landlord doesn't fix it within a certain amount of time, the city will do the work and bill the landlord, and they'll hand out violations."

In Himmelstein's experience, "landlords usually comply" with tenants' requests regarding lead paint. He's worked with tenants in buildings undergoing major renovations who test the dust and find lead, and, he says, "the landlords usually agree to our insistence on safe practices of remediation. Once you point out that there’s lead they’re very concerned with liability down the road. Once they see test results with lead in it, they'll more than likely act responsibly," he says.

For more on your rights, read HPD's Maintenance Requirements on Lead-Based Paint. You can also call 311 to find out how to prevent lead poisoning, find out where to get children tested, and more.

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