Monday, September 17, 2007

EPA Alleges Brighton Property Manager Chestnut Hill Realty Inc. Failed to Inform Tenants About Lead Paint

On August 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a public allegation that the Chestnut Hill Realty Corp.:
failed to inform 135 tenants of known lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards in apartments, and failed to provide records concerning the lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards to tenants. EPA alleges that Chestnut Hill Realty Corp. also failed to provide 42 tenants with copies of an EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet or the Massachusetts Tenant Lead Law Notification. A financial penalty for the the alleged violations has not yet been determined.
These 135 tenants are in Brookline, Brighton, Cambridge, and Rhode Island, according to the Boston Globe's City Weekly. The Globe also reports that CHR attorneys suggest the lack of disclosure may have been due to a "clerical error."

When called to ask the names of the Brighton properties in question, George McHugh, President of Property Management for CHR, said that he would be unavailable for comment on the matter at this time. (I can only imagine the conversation between secretary and boss: "Take a call from a blogger?!? Of course not!" Why companies think that stone-walling citizen journalists in factual matters of the public record escapes me.) Since the information is public as part of EPA allegations, it was easy to find with only a few minutes of work -- starting with the EPA press release of 8/20/07.

David Deegan of the EPA's New England Region No.1 Office provided the EPA complaint which specifies the allegations against CHR related to their actions taken in 2004-5. Some of the allegations are that CHR:
failed to provide the following tenants with an EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet when they offered to lease apartments to them.
But many of the allegations appear to be more serious, in that the EPA alleges that CHR was aware that some properties had lead paint, but failed to disclose that information to the tenants (or maintain documents showing that they had made the disclosure), according to EPA spokesman Deegan. The complaint alleges that CHR:
failed to disclose the presence of known lead-based paint or lead based paint hazards and/or failed to provide records or reports pertaining to lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards when they offered to lease apartments.
In the EPA complaint, the following Brighton properties are identified:
  1. 71 Kilsyth Road, Apartments 9, 11
  2. 75 Kilsyth Road, Apartments 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 14
  3. 100 Kilsyth Road, Apartments 3, 4, 8, 16, 19
  4. 111 Kilsyth Road, Apartment 5
  5. 115 Kilsyth Road, Apartments 2, 4, 9
  6. 77 Lanark Road, Apartment 2
  7. 156 Newton Street, Apartment 1
  8. 58 Selkirk Road, Apartments 8, 11
With the exception of Newton Street, these are all buildings near Cleveland Circle and the border with Brookline.

EPA N.E. regional spokesman Deegan was unaware if young children were living in any of the properties known to have lead paint, nor if local health agencies have begun to follow up by identifying the children and having their blood tested. Obviously, local health officials should follow up on this, including finding out if any (other) children have been living in the properties known to have lead paint since the 2004-5 time period covered in the EPA allegations.

A Local Realtor's Perspective

I spoke with a local real estate agent who sometimes works with CHR on leases. The agent was surprised -- if not in disbelief -- to hear the allegations against the company, since the agent said that CHR usually has all the paperwork in good order on leases, including the lead paint disclosure. Nonetheless, the agent said that it is reasonable to assume that a number of CHR properties in Brookline and Brighton would have lead paint, due to specific details about those properties such as construction dates and style of building. On the other hand, the agent said, CHR has properties in West Roxbury that are known among realtors to have been de-leaded.

Federal Law on Lead Paint Disclosure

Note that the EPA complaint is for violations of Federal Law. I believe that Massachusetts Law is more stringent, but no allegations have, to my knowledge, been made for violations of State Law. The Federal Law of 1992 requires the following disclosures (text from EPA complaint):
The implementing regulations set forth at 40 C.F.R. Part 745, Subpart F, require sellers and lessors of target housing to, among other things:
(a) provide to lessees and purchasers a lead hazard information pamphlet;
(b) disclose to lessees and purchasers, prior to their becoming obligated under any contract to lease or purchase target housing, the presence of any known lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards;
(c) provide to lessees and purchasers records or reports available to the lessor or seller pertaining to lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards in the housing; and,
(d) ensure that the contract to lease or sell includes the following items:
(i) a Lead Warning Statement;
(ii) a statement by the lessor or seller disclosing the presence of known lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards, or indicating no knowledge thereof.

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