NY Seeks $5M in Lead Paint Case

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2022


In what is reported to be the largest amount ever sought from a landlord in a lead paint violation case in Western New York, the Attorney General’s Office recently requested over $5 million from Angel Elliot Dalfin.

The former landlord—who recently surrendered at the federal courthouse to face criminal charges related to lead paint violations—once owned and/or controlled 150 single- and two-family homes in Buffalo, New York, where 29 children reportedly suffered from lead poisoning.

According to court records, Dalfin operated using a web of 19 companies incorporated in the states of Wyoming, Maryland, Delaware and New York, where he shuffled the properties among them.

The price tag for these violations was determined by a combination of penalties, restitution and forfeited rent resulting from 126 instances of deceptive acts and practices that State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto found Dalfin and his entities engaged in.

Between 2013 and 2020, Buffalo News reports that at least 63 of the Dalfin properties were cited for chipping, peeling or deteriorating paint and other conditions conducive to lead poisoning.

Throughout that time, Dalfin was also reported to have repeatedly violated laws by failing to maintain the properties, allowing lead paint to deteriorate and providing deficient and false lead disclosures – or no disclosures at all – to tenants and purchasers of his properties.

In 2018, Dalfin and his property manager, Paul Richard Heil, were charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to make false documents.

According to the complaint, between 2010 and 2018, approximately 50-60% of tenants living in properties owned/operated by Dalfin and Heil did not receive lead disclosure notices required by federal law. The approximately 40-50% of tenants who did receive lead disclosure notices were tenants receiving Section 8 financial housing assistance.

In addition to providing false lead disclosures to renters, the defendants also provided false lead disclosure statements to buyers of numerous properties they owned/operated. Many of those properties had an extensive history of lead paint violations documented by the health department.

Mention of properties cited between 2013 and 2020 was also included in the release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of New York.

“Lead-based paint can create major environmental health risks, and the actions taken by the defendants as alleged in the complaint created unnecessary risk to unsuspecting renters and purchasers,” said U.S. Attorney Kennedy, at the time. “My office will not allow dangerous disregard for the rule of law to go unchecked, and we will continue to work with our partners to protect the health of our community.”

In April, Dalfin was banned from renting out or managing residential properties in New York State as part of a default judgment.

More recently, in June, it was announced that Heil had been fined $15,000 and put on probation for a year by a federal judge as a result of his misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting the failure to provide a lead paint hazard warning notice for a property on two occasions.

At the beginning of the month, Assistant Attorney General Patrick Omilian wrote in court papers that, “The totality of the evidence in the record established the callous, egregious nature of (his) deceptive acts.” In addition to lead paint violations, Omilian also revealed other offenses Dalfin committed, including at least 192 eviction actions between 2015 and 2020 that were never authorized to occur.

“Such evictions were not simply illegal, they also imposed very real hardship and stress on tenants who were already living in difficult circumstances,” Omilian wrote. “Tenants who were low-income, dealing with poor housing conditions and all the accompanying stresses were forced to confront the stress, strains and uncertainty that accompany involuntary eviction.

“Such illegality, although not directly related to lead hazards, exacerbated the negative impacts imposed by defendants on their tenants and the broader community.”

The Attorney General’s Office also cited several other illegal actions Dalfin had taken to obscure his identity and whereabouts, in addition to the creation of a fictional person, “Lisa Peck,” who was used to manage properties and interact with tenants—including the signing of leases, property management agreements, Section 8 housing contracts and other legal documents.

A breakdown of the amounts the state has asked Panepinto to levy are as follows:

  • $630,000 for 126 violations based on false lead disclosures or no disclosures at all to tenants and property purchasers; the maximum $5,000 penalty for each violation;
  • $3.1 million in restitution for county code violations related to lead poisoning; $100 per violation per day over 877 days from November 2019 through April 12, 2022;
  • $60,050 in restitution for Buffalo property management licensing violations; $50 per violation per day over 1,201 days through Jan. 1, 2021;
  • $21,590 in restitution for unpaid Buffalo rental registration fees;
  • $1.26 million in disgorgement of rents received for the 63 homes cited for lead paint violations, for the time period starting when each of the properties was first cited; and
  • $17,000 in allowances, costs and disbursements.

Judge Panepinto was quoted during the recent hearing as being “very inclined” to grant the state’s request. In addition, the judge is planning to investigate if any of the money received from Dalfin and his entities could be spent on programs focused on lead paint remediation, health and safety efforts verses the government budget.

Other Lead Remediation Efforts, Cases in NY

Back in 2019, more than 1,800 children’s classrooms in New York City were reported to have been contaminated with hazardous, deteriorated lead paint.

The testing was reportedly prompted by an investigation by radio station WNYC that originally found loose lead-paint chips and high-dust levels in four schools, it was decided that hundreds of elementary-schools in New York City would be tested.

According to Gothamist, New York City banned the use of lead paint in the 1960s, however, records reveal that school systems continued to use the paint until around 1980. Due to this information, the United States Department of Education conducted lead inspections in buildings constructed before 1985.

Various reports indicate that even in small cases of exposure, the neurotoxin can be especially harmful to children, causing IQ losses, hyperactivity, aggression and other behavioral problems.

In June that same year, the Environmental Protection Agency updated its standards for lead, specifically in dust on floors, windowsills and miscellaneous surfaces in order to protect children from its harmful effects. To continue to protect children’s health and make progress on the dust-lead issue, the EPA has lowered the dust-lead hazard standards from 40 micrograms of lead per square foot to 10 micrograms per square foot on floors and from 250 micrograms to 100 micrograms on windowsills.

When inspections were conducted in NYC, school custodians first performed visual inspections for deterioration, in addition to peeling and chipping paint. Where these instances were found, a certified inspector was then brought into the school to test whether the paint was lead-based. Of the 3-K through first-grade classrooms tested for lead, totaling roughly 8,438 classrooms, 1,860 were reported to be contaminated.

The DOE has since reported that it will be enhancing its protocols beyond classrooms and plans to conduct inspections and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) tests in cafeterias and libraries serving children under the age of six as well.

Following the inspections, the DOE also reported that stabilization and remediation would be concluded prior to children going back to school at the beginning of September. DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot insisted, “Our schools are safe, and this summer we’ve enhanced our protocols and strengthened communication with families around the steps we take to prevent lead exposure for kids under six.”

As announced by Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza, the DOE and the School Construction Authority the following September, all of the more than 1,800 classrooms found to have been contaminated with lead paint have since been successfully remediated.

Next steps were slated to be completed by the 2020-21 school year, including additional remediation to cafeterias and libraries serving children under six. Additional abatement work was also expected to be completed by the SCA in spaces that undergo a capital project. The DOE was also working to plan on addressing additional educational common spaces.

More recently, in January of this year, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that a civil lawsuit had been filed against CISNE NY Construction, Inc., CISNE JE Construction, Inc., CISNE Contracting, Inc. and their principals Jose Pancha and Edison Ruilova (together, the “CISNE Defendants”) for violating lead-based paint safety regulations.

According to the Department of Justice, the CISNE Defendants repeatedly violated the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP Rule).

Filed in Manhattan federal court, the complaint alleges that the CISNE Defendants repeatedly failed to use legally required safety precautions when renovating apartments that had been presumed by law to contain lead paint, having been built prior to 1978.

According to inspectors from the EPA and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, during a jobsite visit officials found that the CISNE Defendants failed to contain debris and dust during their work. A known exposure hazard, the inspectors reported that construction dust was found not just in the units being worked on, but also in the public hallways accessible to other building residents.

After sampling the hazardous material, officials reported that lead contents found in the dust exceeded both local and federal safety standards.

In addition to failing to contain dust and debris during renovations, the CISNE Defendants have also been alleged of failing to post warning signs at the residential jobsites receiving renovations or taking other steps required by law to protect tenants and workers. As a result of the discovered negligence, the EPA and New York officials report the CISNE Defendants ultimately risked exposing tenants and workers to lead paint dust and had violated TSCA and the RRP Rule.

Upon conducting further investigations, the complaint also includes an additional allegation against the CISNE Defendants, claiming that for years the defendants performed renovations in New York City apartment buildings without the required training or certifications.

This was included in the suit after CISNE Defendants failed to provide EPA with legally mandated records that would allow EPA to audit their work. 

In the suit, officials are seeking an injunction barring the CISNE Defendants from performing further work governed by the TSCA and the RRP Rule without complying with mandated safety requirements. The suit also seeks an order requiring the CISNE Defendants to mitigate the harms caused by their prior illegal renovation work.

The case is being handled by the Environmental Protection Unit of the Office’s Civil Division. Assistant United States Attorney Zack Bannon is in charge of the case.

Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an agreement involving a Syracuse, New York-based landlord and their company for failing to protect children from lead paint hazards.

The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Onondaga County in October 2021, alleged that John Kiggins and his company, Endzone Properties, Inc., endangered the health of their tenants by repeatedly violating lead paint laws and failing to mitigate the issues.

According to CNY Central, between January 2015 and July 2021 inspectors from the Onondaga County Health Department and the City of Syracuse Division of Code Enforcement cited 32 properties owned by Endzone Properties for chipping, peeling, and deteriorating paint and other conditions conducive to lead poisoning.

The violations are prohibited by county and city laws.

As a result of the lead poisoning of 18 children, Kiggins and Endzone Properties were permanently banned from managing or owning residential rental properties in New York. The agreement was reportedly negotiated in partnership with Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse.

In addition, Kiggins and his company were required to pay $215,000. According to CNY Central, the money will be used to prevent the exposure of children to lead paint in Syracuse and Onondaga County and will also aid families affected by lead poisoning.

Since the agreement was announced, it was reported that all properties owned by Kiggins and Endzone Properties have been sold and are currently under new management. Reports add that all violations found in the OAG investigation, in addition to those flagged by city and county officials, have been resolved in the properties that are currently occupied.

   

Tagged categories: Good Technical Practice; Government; hazardous materials; Hazardous waste; Hazards; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lawsuits; Lead; Lead; Lead Disclosure Rule; Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP); Lead rule; NA; North America; Residential

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