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City lead paint legislation: good intentions could go amiss.

The city council's new lead paint legislation could end up creating the opposite of what it is supposed to achieve, according to some of the city's biggest landlords and developers.

They believe the strict new guidelines for eradicating lead paint from the city's housing stock are a catastrophic blow to the rehabilitation of properties that will lead to more children living in lead-contaminated homes that ever.

"The people who drew this bill up did so with good intentions," said Mike Lapin, president of Community Preservation Corporation, the private mortgage lender that has invested more than $3.2 billion in housing rehabilitation throughout New York and New Jersey since 1974.

"But the bill will have the unintended effect of making it very difficult to invest money to upgrade and fix older, deteriorating properties. This bill is a Petri dish for litigation, which will have the effect of jeopardizing insurance for rehabilitation in older neighborhoods."

Once commonly used as an interior and decorative paint--and still used today in some Latin and Third World countries--lead paint is blamed for causing brain and neurological damage, especially in young children. It was banned by New York City Council in 1960, but still exists in much of the city's older housing stock.

Studies have show that 19 in 1,000 children between the age of six months and six years have elevated levels of lead in their blood, caused by inhaling or ingesting lead dust or chips. Most of them live in the poorer "lead belt" neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, East Flatbush, Williamsburg, Fort Green and Jamaica.

While landlords and developers agree the problem should be tackled in these "high risk" areas where cracked and peeling paint has been well documented, they say the new bill could create more danger by forcing the removal of lead paint in relatively "safe" buildings.

The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act of 2003 requires peeling paint to be removed from all apartments occupied by children under seven by 2007; requires lead testing when any rehabilitation is scheduled; landlords to fix violations within 14 days of notification; presumes lead paint to be present in all pre-60 apartments and; if a child is found to have elevated lead levels, holds the landlord responsible, regardless of the real source.

"The presumption [that lead paint in an apartment caused a child's illness] doesn't leave any room for defense on the part of building owners," said Nick LaPorte, executive director of the Associated Building Owners.

"You can have an apartment you rent out to a family with a child under seven and the paint can be fully intact with no dust or chips. That child could have lead poisoning and the landlord will be presumed liable--that's a presumption a landlord can't rebut.

"It will definitely impact on the affordable housing stock because we have older buildings in dire need of rehabilitation and no-one is going to want to make that kind of investment and take on that liability."

LaPorte predicts the council will be forced to undo the legislation because it will be "unenforceable" and will have such a negative impact on the housing stock.

"People will steer away from renting to families with children under seven. I think the council will rue the day it implemented this bill."

Although Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to veto the bill, it appears to have enough support to negate any steps he might take.

Short of a costly law suit, the ABO believes landlords hands are tied.

While it awaits the mayor's next move, however, the Real Estate Board of New York is examining whether the city conducted sufficient studies of the environmental effect of the bill's requirements--the reason the previous lead poisoning Local Law 38 was overturned by the courts.

"We are looking to see whether they did that [environmental review] and, in this case, it looks like they probably didn't," said Marolyn Davenport, senior vice president of REBNY.

"We had a bill that was working well and lead levels had gone down 80 percent," added Davenport. "We advocated that the city should concentrate its resources on the lead belt where there was deterioration and that needed to be rehabbed, but the owner may not have had the capital.

"Our position was to focus resources on housing where there is a problem rather than requiring all pre-60s housing that's in very good condition and well maintained, that doesn't have peeling paint, and burdening owners with a whole new set of requests that are costly to the city and increase operating costs."

Maureen Silverman, spokeswoman for the Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, accused property owners of "perpetuating a myth" by claiming they have no rebuttal to claims of lead poisoning.

"The previous law had similar liability provisions," she said. "It is frustrating that the real estate industry continues to perpetuate the myth that landlords have no rebuttal. A tenant has to prove a child was poisoned by lead paint in the home and there is a very strict process for this. It has to be proven that the landlord did not make reasonable efforts to address the situation."

Silverman also dismissed claims that rehabilitation of property would grind to a halt as a result of the legislation. "Under the previous law, which had similar provisions, landlords have been rehabilitating properties. We have a strong concern for promoting affordable housing and at the same time preventing lead poisoning in children and we don't believe the bill will undermine this.

"In terms of problems with insurance, then the insurance industry needs to make changes because we cannot jeopardize the health of children. Lead poisoning is preventable and we know the major source is lead paint."
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Article Details
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Author:Barr, Linda
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 31, 2003
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