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City Council usurps Mayor on lead paint.

The lead paint legislation vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg in December has passed into law via City Council override, leaving Democratic legislators overjoyed and landlords worried.

The city council overrode Bloomberg's veto of Local Law 101A last week. The law will replace the less stringent local laws 38 and 1.

Among other details, the law states that any peeling paint in a dwelling constructed before 1960 is presumed to be lead paint--leaving owners liable for abatement and possible damages. Owner-occupied cooperatives and condominiums are exempt from the law.

Opponents said the bill could leave landlords liable for interpreted damages, even when no lead paint is found in apartments. The law also states owners must prevent the reasonably foreseeable occurrence of lead hazards and remediate them. Owners also must address any underlying defects that might cause lead hazards in apartments and common areas.

The law requires owners to regularly check dwellings for the presence of children who may be affected by the presence of crumbling lead paint or lead dust and distribute literature on lead poisoning to tenants.

Proponents of the law hailed its passage saying that it protected children living in older buildings.

Councilman William Perkins, a Democrat who authored the bill, said it spoke to the importance of protecting children.

"We wrote the bill to protect children in New York from the crippling poisoning of lead paint and lead dust," Perkins said, adding that 5,000 new cases of lead poisoning in children are reported every year, forcing billions of dollars from the city budget.

Democratic Councilwoman Gail Brewer, who voted for the bill, said legislators must have "zero-tolerance for lead poisoning in children."

"You need a law that can protect children, so we can work hard to be sure that there's zero tolerance for lead in people's houses," Brewer said.

Opponents of the legislation said it would prevent landlords from investing in affordable housing and was aimed at a problem that had greatly dissipated in the past several years.

"I think the single most egregious thing about the bill is that we've gone back to applying the presumption (of lead paint,)" said Councilman James Oddo, a Republican who voted against the bill. "If the child is of appropriate age, we assume the presence of lead. We've now extended that to the arena of liability."

Brewer acknowledged the law was a "touchy and costly issue" for landlords. "But I also think that there has been a great deal of meetings regarding the housing aspect."

She also spoke of possible modifications to the law.

"I think thoughtful people will work on the regulation and hopefully it won't be as costly as people are fearful of," Brewer said.

Oddo said the liability clauses would make landlords in older buildings unnecessarily liable and force them to pay ridiculously high prices to obtain insurance.

"A landlord will be forced to go to court on each and every location (of lead paint)," Oddo said. "It will eventually result in frivolous lawsuits and eventually make it more difficult to get insurance."

Perkins said the statute does not presume the landlords "guilty."

"It still requires the victim to prove they were poisoned on said property," he said. "The landlords are still presumed innocent until proven guilty. They just cannot use the excuse that 'I did not know.' They had to know if their building was built before 1960."

Nick LaPorte, of the Associated Builders and Owners of Greater New York, called the new law "horrible."

"It's not good for this industry and it's going to create problems for rehabilitating older housing stock in the city," he said. "It's going to create a tremendous liability for owners."

LaPorte claimed the bill would require more abatement work and subsequently result in greater chances of children being exposed to lead.

He believes the previous laws were adequate protection from lead paint. Opponents of the new legislation point out that since 1996, incidents of lead poisoning have dropped nearly 80 percent.

"It was a maintenance standard that required less invasive procedures to repair (apartments)," LaPorte said. "It created a level (of accountability) that owners could deal with a lot more readily and avoid any major problems in the future."
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Author:Moore, Peter
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 11, 2004
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