U.S. Announces Settlement with Illinois Landlord for Failing to Disclose Potentially Dangerous Lead Hazards
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with a Rockford, Illinois landlord to resolve a claim he failed to inform tenants, some with young children, that their homes may contain potentially dangerous lead.
The agreement requires Dennis Hardesty to replace windows and clean up lead‑based paint hazards in 50 rental properties containing a total of 52 units (see attached list of properties). In addition to the $308,000 worth of lead abatement work, Hardesty agreed to pay $5,000 in penalties.
According to the federal government, Hardesty violated the Federal Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act (Residential Lead Act) by failing to inform tenants that their homes may contain potentially dangerous levels of lead. Winnebago County health department officials identified at least seven children with elevated blood lead levels in the properties Hardesty leased. Investigations by the health department identified lead‑based paint and lead-based paint hazards in the units. Going forward, Hardesty will ensure that he will provide information about lead‑based paint to tenants before they are obligated to sign any lease.
The lead abatement work Hardesty will perform as a result of the settlement includes window replacement and abatement of all friction and impact surfaces, and clearance exams to make those units lead safe for families to rent and live in. HUD will provide ongoing monitoring of Hardesty’s implementation of the settlement agreement, and will share the results with its federal partners for possible further action.
“Lead poisoning is entirely preventable but it requires all of us to recognize that we share a responsibility to protect our vulnerable populations, especially young children who are still developing,” said Matt Ammon, Director of HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. “Landlords of homes built before 1978 have a legal responsibility to make their tenants aware of lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards they know about or that may be in their homes so that tenants can protect their families.”
“This settlement will protect children in Rockford from exposure to lead-based paint – and it sends a clear message to landlords and property managers across the country that the Environmental Protection Agency is prioritizing enforcement actions to eliminate elevated blood lead levels in children,” EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman said.
“This settlement requires Dennis Hardesty to institute a robust program to ensure that his properties are compliant with federal law,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “My office will continue to enforce these important laws to protect tenants from exposure to dangerous lead paint.”
The settlement announced today represents the first joint Residential Lead Act enforcement action in Rockford. It was the result of intensive coordination among local health officials and federal investigators. HUD, EPA and the Department of Justice are continuing similar enforcement efforts around the nation. As a result of enforcement actions taken thus far, landlords have agreed to conduct lead-based paint hazard reduction in more than 187,000 apartments and to pay $1.5 million in civil penalties. In resolving these cases, landlords have committed to expend more than an estimated $31 million to address lead-based paint hazards in the affected units. In addition, over $700,000 has been provided by defendants to community-based projects to reduce lead poisoning.
The Residential Lead Act is one of the primary federal enforcement tools to prevent lead poisoning in young children. The Lead Disclosure Rule requires home sellers and landlords of housing built before 1978 to disclose to purchasers and potential tenants knowledge of lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards using a disclosure form, signed by both parties, attached to the sales contract or lease containing the required lead warning statement, provide any available records or reports, and provide an EPA-approved “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home” information pamphlet. Sellers must also provide purchasers with an opportunity to conduct a lead-based paint inspection and/or risk assessment at the purchaser’s expense. Acceptable lead disclosure forms can be found at www.hud.gov/offices/lead/dislcosurerule and www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadbase.htm.
Health Effects of Lead-Based Paint
No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Lead exposure causes reduced IQ, learning disabilities, developmental delays, reduced height, poorer hearing, and a host of other health problems in young children. Many of these effects are thought to be irreversible. In later years, lead-poisoned children are much more likely to drop out of school, become juvenile delinquents and engage in criminal and other anti-social behavior. Researchers have found that even at low levels, lead exposure in children can significantly impact IQ and might delay puberty in young girls.
At higher levels, lead can damage a child’s kidneys and central nervous system and cause anemia, coma, convulsions and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.
Eliminating lead-based paint hazards in older low-income housing is essential if childhood lead poisoning is to be eradicated. According to CDC estimates, the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels has been cut in half since the early 1990’s, although as many as 1 million children are still affected by lead poisoning today. HUD estimates that the number of houses with lead paint has declined from 64 million in 1990 to 37 million in 2006. About 23 million homes still have significant lead-based paint hazards, and about 3.6 million homes with children less than 6 years of age have one or more of these hazards.