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Lead poisoning: A hidden hazard for unwary New York renters

How many apartments in New York carry the threat of possible lead exposure to occupants? No one has a solid number. What we do know, because the city recently admitted as much, is that at least 820 young children living in units controlled by the public Housing Authority tested positive for lead in their blood between 2012 and 2016. We also know that the presumption under law is that any building in the city built before 1960 had lead paint, and a major portion of local housing fits that description.

Another provision in the law requires building owners to inform tenants of any known lead paint hazards. And owners of buildings built before 1978 that have three or more units must conduct annual tenant surveys to identify potential problems. If any apartment's occupants are children under the age of six, landlords must remediate any lead hazards. If that doesn't happen and a child develops lead poisoning, a landlord could be liable under a negligence claim.

Lead poisoning facts

Lead poisoning is not rare. Millions of children suffer exposure every year and those under age five are at greatest risk. No level of lead in children's blood is considered safe. Experts have reached a consensus that a level of five micrograms per deciliter in a child is way above average. Also, research has shown that even very low levels negatively affect children's mental and physical development. High levels can be deadly.

More disconcerting is that lead poisoning often goes undetected until levels are already dangerously high and damage has already been done.

Obviously, avoiding exposure to lead is important. But that can be difficult because lead is present in so many things; old paint, toys, home furnishings, plumbing, and even the solder used to seal canned goods from some foreign countries.

Proper home maintenance by tenants is crucial, but it is a landlord's responsibility to deal with general repairs and to see they are done following safe handling practices.

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