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News + Views

Lead Law Hurts Parents

By Lisa M. Collins

When my daughter was two, she tested positive for low levels of lead in her system. We decided to hire an environmental consultant to survey our rental apartment on Sackett Street, near Court, to tell us where the problems were. Our landlord’s agent urged us not to do so, and claimed he’d never heard of lead in Brooklyn brownstones. When we insisted, the landlord, who lived in Italy, told us she would not renew our lease.

We were outraged, most especially because we paid for all the lead abatement work and the inspector ourselves—it was a great apartment, the problems were fix-able, and we wanted to stay. Granted, the inspector had found lead in the back garden at levels 10 times the allowable amount for New York City playgrounds, and some highly-leaded doors and moldings. We could fix the interior, but there would be no more muddy outings in the yard, planting tomatoes and veggies and flowers.

I wrote a story for New York Magazine on the topic (published today).

So now, I’m glad we left. But back then, the stress and anger were, how shall I say, a major hindrance to the enjoyment of life. I know this problem has hit many parents around brownstone Brooklyn. In my opinion, the law needs to change so that it does more to protect parents who rent.

If you’ve had this experience and came out with a happy ending, or just want to vent, please comment here. For the parents who are undergoing this situation–a battle with landlords over lead—nothing is more stressful. At least you should know, you are not alone.


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Readers' Comments

November 16, 2014
2:25 PM

hi. who’s the lawyer?

November 19, 2010
6:53 AM

Hi Lisa -Glad I found your article, as we had a conversation a while ago on this topic, and I was telling you at the time my side of it.

To recap for everybody else: I had pretty much the same issue with Lisa here, only that my daughter’s lead level was 41 at the first reading (so WAAAAAY crazy), due to the fact that she was teething at the time, and consequently chewing on everything -including, unfortunately, the window sills of our rental brownstone apt on Court st. (without me realizing the problem!)

Our story ends happier -but only after years of fight & effort. The law seems to be on parents’ side though in our experience, as we initially didn’t want to pursue a legal avenue against our landlord -but as he chosen to get rid of us as tenants for no reason (as we didn’t even call the City about the situation, the hospital did after the lead reading) I started to look into it. After all the struggle (it took for ever for the apt to be cleaned -the city forced the landlord to do it, so we didn’t have to pay for anything -but we had to live for a whole month in a lead-safe house provided by the city & had our lives disrupted, not to mention the health issue with my baby, as we had no idea what to do to fix it faster & all!) for him to simply threw us out was really too much. So that’s when we started the lawsuit, which we won after 2 years of back & forth. Other than that… my baby still receives speech therapy, as speech delay is a side effect of lead poisoning, but she’s now (at 4.5 years old) almost back on track, after 3.5 years of therapy.

So for people interested in this matter:
1. the law says it’s enough for the Health Department to get a complain about a potential lead hazard, and they will send people to take samples from the apartment. No tenant should pay for anything related to this. Also -during the apartment cleanup, the City provides a safe house for the family, also free of charge.
2. if landlord retaliates, you have an even better ground for a lawsuit -and speaking of which -I can recommend the best attorney specialized in lead poisoning (they only take part of the money he would win, in case he wins -so I guess it’s a pretty good deal)

So bottom line -I believe even under the current law, people do have some power to fight wrongdoing landlords -if they only learn the way (and gather the courage) to do it.