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EPA Proposes Penalties Against Two N.H. Realtors For Lead Paint Disclosure Violations: Enforcement Cases Part of Regional Campaign to Protect Families from Lead Hazards
Release Date: 10/01/2002
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1014
BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that it has filed enforcement complaints against two New Hampshire realty companies for failing to properly notify home buyers and renters of risks from exposure to lead paint, as required by federal law. EPA is proposing a fine of $33,892 against Senecal Properties and $13,200 against Lacerte Realty, both based in Manchester, NH.
The two cases are among a half-dozen lead-related civil and criminal cases EPA New England has taken since launching an initiative to make sure landlords and property owners are complying with federal laws, which require them to notify tenants and prospective buyers of potential lead-paint hazards in their buildings. The initiative has included more than 80 inspections around New England as well as compliance assistance workshops.
"Lead poisoning continues to be a major public health threat in New England, especially in our cities where thousands of children are still being exposed to lead hazards each year," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office, who announced the cases during a visit today to a facility in Manchester, NH that provides lead-safe housing to families. "Today's cases show that we're serious about making sure renters and buyers get the information they need to protect their children from potential lead threats."
Federal law requires that sellers and landlords selling or renting housing built before 1978 must: provide an EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet; include lead notification language in sales and rental forms; disclose any known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards in the living unit and provide available reports to buyers or renters; allow a lead inspection or risk assessment by home buyers; and maintain records certifying compliance with federal laws for a period of three years. Sellers, lessors, and real estate agents all share responsibility for such compliance.
Both Senecal and Lacerte had previously received orders to abate lead hazards at rental properties from the NH Office of Community and Public Health (OCPH).
According to EPA's complaint, Senecal Properties in 1998 leased a rental unit in Manchester, NH identified in the OCPH order to a family with four children under the age of six. The lessees received no information about the presence of lead in the unit leased nor any notice of the existence of a lead abatement order for the premises. Several days later, Senecal sold the building without disclosing the presence of lead or the existence of the abatement order to the purchaser. In five other lease transactions, Senecal failed to obtain the dates of lessees' signatures on a form acknowledging the lessor's disclosure of information about lead.
Lacerte Realty, a real estate company that sells and leases properties in southern New Hampshire, on at least three occasions failed to ensure that buyers were properly notified that a lead hazard could exist from exposure to lead-based paint. The three residential properties were located in Milford, Allentown and Manchester. None of the required steps under the federal Lead Disclosure Rule were taken to notify buyers before a purchase agreement was signed.
The investigations leading to the two cases were carried out jointly by EPA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Low-level lead poisoning is widespread among American children, affecting as many as three million children under the age of six, with lead paint the primary cause. In Manchester, NH alone, 173 of 2,238 children who were screened last year – 7.7 percent – had elevated blood lead levels, according to the NH Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. That's double the statewide rate of 3.8 percent.
Researchers have determined that children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning, both because of a higher probability of ingestion of lead paint particles (including lead contaminated dust) and because of a higher degree of vulnerability. Elevated lead levels can trigger learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity, impaired hearing and even brain damage.
Today's announcement comes six months after a Manchester, NH property manager and his company was fined $40,000 and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for failing to notify tenants in Manchester of lead dangers and obstructing EPA's investigation into the case. The criminal case was launched by EPA, HUD and the U.S. Attorney District of New Hampshire after one of the children in the family – a two-year-old girl – died from lead poisoning in 2000.