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May 19, 2019

Landlord group says they shouldn’t have to pay for ‘sins and scandals’ with tougher lead laws

September 27, 2018
The City Council is set to hear testimony from the Rent Stabilization Association about legislation aimed at reducing lead exposure in private residences. (Debbie Egan-Chin / New York Daily News)

A landlord group is accusing the City Council of making them sacrificial lambs for the city’s housing authority with a package of legislation aimed at reducing lead exposure in private residences.

The Rent Stabilization Association is set to testify to that end at a hearing Thursday — when the Council will consider bills to adopt the same standards as the Centers for Disease Control for elevated blood lead levels, to expand where the Department of Health looks for lead after an elevated blood test, and tighten regulations on how much lead is permissible in paint or paint dust after remediation.

But even though the vast majority of children who have tests showing elevated blood levels live in private housing, RSA President Joseph Stratsburg insisted private landlords are being dragged into something that’s the New York City Housing Authority’s problem.

“Based on the city’s own data, there is no justification for a broad based, citywide approach that drags private building owners into the NYCHA quagmire. Private industry is getting it right,” Strasburg said in a statement. “To deflect the spotlight from the city’s miserable housing failures that have poisoned countless children is nothing more than implementing public health policy based on politics.”

Strasburg was citing statistics that show that the number of children testing for elevated blood levels in all kinds of housing had plummeted by 90% in the city since 2005.

But city data also shows that rates of elevated lead are higher in private housing than they are in public housing — in 2017, 15.2 per 1,000 children tested for elevated lead in private housing, compared to 6.8 per 1,000 tested in public housing, according to Health Department data released this summer.

“There’s been a dramatic, dramatic drop in the incidence of elevated blood lead levels. So the private sector is doing its job,” Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for RSA said in an interview, adding that his members were doing required inspections and making required fixes.

But he argued the new legislation was the result of the attention on NYCHA — which he argued wasn’t doing its job — even if elevated blood levels are more common among private housing residents.

“The reason I think that we put NYCHA in the press release is that I think a lot of this has been prompted by their dereliction of duty and not doing the same thing the private sector is doing,” he said. “But yes I will acknowledge, because you’re right, the incidence of [elevated blood levels] in public housing is much less than in private housing.”

In his statement, Strasburg argued that the decline in children with elevated lead levels was a “public health success story.”

“We do it right, the city doesn’t — and private building owners shouldn’t have to pay for the sins and scandals of NYCHA and the City Administration,” he said.

But in a statement, Council Speaker Corey Johnson said there are still gaps in the law — even if there are good landlords

“This package is to address gaps in the city’s lead laws that have prevented us from getting rid of this toxic material in our homes, water and soil. Over 4,200 children tested positive for elevated blood lead levels last year. While I recognize there are landlords that have followed the law, it is not enough,” Johnson said.

“Lead exposure has been a long-standing problem and we have the power to fix it. With due diligence, lead poisoning is preventable. It can harm children for life, and we must do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

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