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New York City Council considering new lead paint laws with thousands of kids still showing unsafe lead levels every year

New York City Council considering new lead paint laws
New York City Council considering new lead paint laws 05:56

NEW YORK -- Nearly 20 years ago, New York City passed sweeping legislation and laid out a goal of eradicating childhood lead poisoning here by 2010.

Now, with thousands of New York City kids still showing unsafe lead levels per year, City Council is considering a new package of laws. Some advocates and parents tell CBS2 investigator Tim McNicholas the current laws have fallen short.

When 9-year-old Carter Nunez smiles, his mother Sakia Colon cherishes the moment because she's also seen his pain from the challenges of being autistic and non-verbal, and on top of that, he's suffered lead poisoning.

"I think it could have made him regress in some way, because before, Carter would give me words. There was a point when he was giving me at least 50 words," Colon said.

In 2019, after Carter's blood test first showed high lead levels, a city inspection found peeling paint containing lead at their apartment in the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx.

Children can suffer brain damage or stunted development from ingesting paint chips or dust containing lead.

The landlord says they took immediate action to fix the problems.

But last spring, the city again found hazardous amounts of lead in the apartment after Carter's blood tests showed even higher levels, about 15 times the average amount for a child.

"That's got to be heartbreaking for you," McNicholas said.

"It's very heartbreaking 'cause sometimes you kind of, even though you know I didn't put the lead here, you feel like it's kinda your fault 'cause you're here, you can't get out of here," Colon said.

The building owner says they worked quickly to fix it the second time, too, but today, Colon wonders whether the peeling paint or the dust that quickly piles up on her windowsill is actually lead-free.

"I am doing the most that I can. I've gone to do court," she said.

Colon isn't the only one suffering in her neighborhood. In the 14th District, the city has taken landlords to court over lead violations more often than any other area of the city -- more than 560 times since 2006.

"There are still loopholes that allow lead hazards to persist," says 14th District Councilmember Pierina Sanchez.

Sanchez is sponsoring a bill that would require landlords who get lead violations to show records proving they've inspected for lead hazards in the past and worked to fix any hazards.

"We've seen dramatic declines in the rates, but now, the disease is one of that affects you if you are Black, Latino, Asian, if you are from a low-income community," she said.

Since 2004, landlords in older buildings are required to inspect for lead hazards each year and keep records of it in any apartment with a child younger than 6, and to remove any lead paint from surfaces like door frames and window sills before a new tenant moves in.

The city did not start regularly citing landlords for breaking those two rules until 2019.

Colon and her lawyer, Reuven Frankel, are suing both the current and former owners of Colon's building, saying, based on the city's laws, the problems should have been found and fixed years earlier. 

"We keep on passing laws, but we don't do the follow-up and the follow-through. Laws are great. They have to be enforced," Frankel said.

The city has ramped up enforcement in the last few years for those two requirements, but some parents say they're still not proactive enough.

For example, a 2020 law requires landlords of older buildings to arrange a specific kind of test that can detect lead through multiple layers of paint. The law gives most landlords until 2025, but if a child younger than 6 lives in the home, the test is required within a year.

So far, the city has only issued 21 violations for landlords not having that test done.

"They have to do better. I think that whatever laws that they have in place, they should do a better job of enforcing it," Colon said.

In emails, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development told CBS2 they did issue hundreds of thousands of violations for peeling paint even before 2019 and, between 2004-2018, spent over $42 million trying to fix lead-based paint hazards.

The HPD issued about a dozen violations for peeling paint at the building where Colon lives.

When she moved in in 2013, about a year before Carter was born, her landlord was BN Realty Associates.

Then in 2016, Ved Parkash and Parkash Management bought the building.

Parkash agreed to pay $60,000 in penalties in 2021 after the city found more than 50 lead violations across several other buildings he owns.  

Neither Parkash nor BN Realty Associates would agree to an interview for this story.

Parkash Management sent CBS2 the following statement from a spokesperson:

"Due to active litigation, Parkash Management is not at liberty to discuss these matters in full. Sometime between both incidents, the tenant filed a civil lawsuit against the building's two previous owners, the previous management companies, and Parkash. However, Parkash Management can say that it followed all city lead paint laws and regulations by taking immediate action when the issue was brought to its attention by the Department of Health in 2019, and again in 2022. Parkash is deeply committed to the safety, health, and well-being of all its tenants – evidenced in its swift response to these separate lead paint incidents.  

"After Parkash received the first notice on Jan. 25, 2019, it hired a third-party lead abatement company that began the curative process on Jan. 29. Upon completion of the work on Feb. 1, Parkash retained an independent inspector who performed the required dust-wipe analysis and submitted the paperwork to the Health Dept., which, in turn, informed Parkash in a Feb. 19 letter that the Jan. 25 violation was closed. 

"Parkash swiftly responded to the May 9, 2022 notice by retaining the same third-party lead abatement company, which performed the curative work from May 19-24. However, the dust-wipe analysis paperwork that would've closed the violation could not be submitted because the tenant inexplicably denied the independent inspector entry to the apartment. It wasn't until last month that the tenant allowed entry to the inspector, who then submitted the paperwork to the Health Dept. on April 4, 2023 – with closure of the May 9, 2022 violation now pending."

"I feel like if he would've done things right the first time around, we wouldn't be here again," Colon said.

Colon and Carter are now waiting to hear from the city as to whether Parkash really has fixed the problems.

Until then, Colon says, "No, I'm not confident that it's safe in here."

The City Council is considering a few other bills, including stronger requirements for landlords to remove lead paint hazards on doorframes and windowsills.

Some landlords are pushing back, saying they don't want remediation to create new hazards for tenants, and, on the proposal to show inspection records, they say they're already required in some cases to show compliance records.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development says they audit hundreds of buildings every year, but they also inspect in response to complaints, so the number one thing is to speak up.

You can also search your building address in the city's open data portal to see if there have been lead violations in the past.

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