Real Estate Firms Fail to Follow Lead Paint Disclosure Rule

A large, Boston-based real estate corporation, The Community Builders, Inc. (TCB), and nearly two dozen associated property owners have agreed to pay a $200,000 penalty and spend more than $2 million in lead paint abatement work at residential properties to settle an enforcement action brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

According to a March 27 press release, this agreement resolves EPA and HUD's allegations that TCB and the owners failed to inform tenants that their homes might contain potentially dangerous levels of lead—in violation of the federal Lead Disclosure Rule—at properties in 11 Massachusetts and Connecticut communities.

The settlement is the result of closely coordinated enforcement actions by EPA and HUD against TCB and 23 associated property owners. TCB is a Massachusetts non-profit corporation that develops, finances, and manages affordable, mixed-income housing. TCB manages almost 100 properties containing about 7,700 housing units in numerous cities throughout the eastern half of the United States. The company specializes in large-scale, low-income housing redevelopment projects, many of which are financed using public and private monies under a federal low-income housing tax credit program.

"Children's exposure to lead paint is a serious public health issue in New England. A large proportion of housing in this region was built before 1978 when use of lead paint was banned," said Ira W. Leighton, acting regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "Landlords play an important role in helping to prevent lead poisoning by following lead paint disclosure requirements and making sure families are aware of potential lead hazards in homes."

The alleged violations involved in this settlement arose out of almost 300 separate lease transactions between TCB and the property owners, and their tenants from August 2003 to March 2006. EPA and HUD discovered the violations after a lengthy investigation, including a review of records provided by TCB under a 2006 EPA subpoena issued pursuant to the Toxic Substances Control Act. The violations occurred at TCB-managed housing in New Haven and Vernon, Conn., and in the Massachusetts communities of Boston, Fall River, Gloucester, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lexington, Springfield, Westfield, and Worcester. Information available to EPA and HUD does not indicate any child was lead poisoned as a result of the violations, although, many of the properties where violations were found contained lead-based paint.

Under the terms of this settlement, one of the largest administrative cases filed under the Lead Disclosure Rule, TCB will pay the $200,000 civil penalty, to be split equally between EPA and HUD. In addition, the settlement requires that TCB and the property owners carry out at least $2,050,000 in lead-based paint abatement in residential housing over several years. This work will include window replacement, abatement of lead-based paint on interior and exterior "friction and impact surfaces," and other measures to mitigate lead-based paint hazards. Under the agreement, TCB must hire certified inspectors/risk assessors to conduct clearance examinations to ensure that all work is done properly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 310,000 of the nation's 20 million children under the age of six have blood lead levels high enough to impair their ability to think, concentrate, and learn.