A property management firm that manages more than 6,000 apartments in approximately 134 buildings in New York City — a majority of which are located predominantly in low-income communities in the Bronx — is being held accountable for repeatedly violating lead poisoning prevention laws and endangering the lives of their tenants, according to an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office.
Filed in February 2020, Chestnut Holdings of New York, Inc. (Chestnut Holdings) allegedly failed to meet the city’s lead poisoning prevention laws which require landlords to take critical measures to prevent children under 6 years old from being exposed to paint with dangerously high levels of lead. According to the Attorney General’s office, Chestnut Holdings is expected to not only bring its apartments up to compliance but will also pay $300,000 for lead poisoning prevention programs, following an agreement reached on Sept. 23.
The agreement was jointly filed by state Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development in the Bronx County Supreme Court.
Going forward, if Chestnut Holdings is found in violation of the agreement, they could face “possible legal action.”
James’ investigation into Chestnut began in 2018 and determined that the company engaged in repeated violations of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, including failing to inspect apartments to determine if a child under 6 years of age lives there; failing to conduct complete annual investigations of apartments for hazards that are conducive to lead poisoning; and failing to take the necessary measures when an apartment turns over.
“Every New Yorker — especially children living in our most disadvantaged communities — has a right to live a healthy life without the threat of lead paint poisoning,” said James in a statement. “As a landlord to thousands of children and families, Chestnut failed to safeguard its tenants, but, today, we are ensuring their health will be protected moving forward. I will continue to do everything within my power to uphold our lead laws and hold landlords accountable for exposing our communities to serious and irreversible harms.”
Lead poisoning in New York City is highest among children of color and children living in high-poverty neighborhoods; low-income children represent 66%, while Asian, Black and Latino children represent 84%, of children under the age of 6 in the city with elevated lead levels, according to the attorney general’s office. In 2019, the city Department of Health reported that 564 children in Bronx private and public housing under the age of 18 showed dangerously high blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood.
The agreement with Chestnut is the conclusion to a second successful investigation by the Attorney General’s office into landlord violations of the city’s lead poisoning prevention laws this month.
On Sept. 18, James’ office announced that their investigation into NYC-based landlord Real Estate Holdings (A&E), found that the group was not in compliance with apartment inspection, lead hazard remediation, and other key requirements of NYC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act.
A&E is expected to commit $510,000 to initiatives aimed at protecting children from lead-based poisoning from lead-based paint used in the apartments, as a final resolution to the attorney general’s investigation.
“Not only is New York Attorney General Letitia James holding criminally negligent landlords accountable for putting the health of our children at risk, but she is also using funds from these fines to protect other children from toxic lead poisoning,” said Sonal Jessel, policy director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
According to Jessel, national studies show that Black children living below the poverty line are twice as likely to suffer from lead poisoning as poor white children.
In NYC, child lead poisoning continues to be a widespread problem, with a rate of 11.2 per 1,000 children living in private housing having elevated blood lead levels. In 2020, the New York City Housing Authority reported that 1,160 children living in public housing have tested positive for lead poisoning since 2012.
“Some of the worst landlords in our city put the health and safety of New Yorkers at risk to protect their own profits, and Chestnut Holdings is near the top of my office’s list,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “I thank the attorney general for pursuing justice and reaching this settlement on behalf of tenants who have faced dangerous conditions as a result of Chestnut Holdings’ negligence, and am glad to see that, as a result, more children and families can be protected against hazards in their homes.”
In 1960, the city prohibited the sale of paint with high levels of lead for residential use. This was followed by a statewide ban in 1970 before the federal government banned lead in paint in 1978. However, a vast majority of older, painted buildings contain some paint with lead levels higher than these bans allow.
The New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act requires owners of apartments and houses built before 1960 to take critical safety measures to prevent lead poisoning in children tenants.
Lead paint has been found in approximately 43% of all New York dwellings, according to the Attorney General’s office.
“I applaud Attorney General Letitia James for having taken infamous Bronx-based landlord Chestnut Holding to task and reached a settlement agreement that will make them fully comply with our city’s existing childhood lead poisoning prevention laws. This should serve as a warning to other landlords that they will be held accountable for neglecting health hazards in homes of children and families in New York City and across the state,” said Progressive state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, of the Bronx’s 33rd District.
Attempts to reach Chestnut Holdings for comment were unsuccessful.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.