Court of Appeals Upholds Lead Paint Rules

In a unanimous decision opinion by Chief Judge Judith Kaye, the Court of Appeals upheld the appellate division’s holding that because New York City law creates an affirmative obligation for landlords to remove lead paint in any multiple dwelling where a child under age 7 resides, landlords are charged with “constructive notice” of any hazardous lead paint condition, and cannot claim a lack of actual notice of lead paint in the event a child is poisoned. (Juarez v. Wavecrest Management)Met Council was one of 104 amici who joined Bronx Legal Services in fighting the city’s inaction in the lead paint issue. The court’s decision was precisely the position which was the focus of the amici brief to the Court of Appeals. On the narrow issue of whether the landlord had notice of a child’s presence in the apartment, the court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court for a hearing.

In describing the decision, the New York Law Journal reported that “[s]evere lead poisoning can cause coma or death and even low level exposure can cause serious neurological damage in young children.” The court quoted a Mayor’s task force conclusion that “childhood lead-paint poisoning may be the most significant environmental disease in New York City.”

This victory had its bad news as well. In its letter to Met Council, Matthew J. Chachère of Bronx Legal Services advised Met Council that as of August 1, 1996, it was transferring its litigation regarding lead poisoning to the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation because of the recently enacted federal law that prohibits legal services offices which receive federal funds from handling class action cases.