Citing Exposure of Children to Lead Poisoning, Attorney General James Files Suit Against Buffalo Group Over Failure to Address Lead-Based Paint Dangers
Repeated and Persistent Violations Result in Continuing Health
Risks, Dozens of Reported Childhood Lead Poisonings
BUFFALO – New York Attorney General Letitia James, joined by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, today announced a lawsuit against a group of individuals and companies in the Buffalo region for repeatedly and persistently violating county, city, state, and federal laws by illegally allowing lead paint-related hazards to proliferate in their rental properties. The violations by the group, which has owned and managed more than 150 single- and two-family homes in predominantly low-income communities of color, has led to dozens of reported instances of childhood lead poisoning.
The rental housing operations addressed in the suit are controlled by Angel Elliot Dalfin. In the lawsuit, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) identifies six specific Dalfin properties that serve as examples of the egregious and illegal lead hazard management practices used by the landlords and the poisoning of children in those properties.
“It is as immoral as it is illegal that a landlord would knowingly expose families to lead poisoning, which disproportionately threatens the health and development of Black and brown children,” said Attorney General James. “Our children deserve to live in safe and healthy homes, not dangerous and poisonous ones. This group of landlords and property managers put low-income Buffalo communities at extreme risk, and today we are holding them accountable. As Buffalo continues to have some of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the country, my office will continue to hold bad actors responsible. Every family deserves to live in a home free of lead hazards, and I will work to ensure that happens.”
The lawsuit, filed in Erie County Supreme Court, alleges that since 2013, the Erie County Department of Health has identified dozens of children with elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) in 22 of the Dalfin properties. In addition, since 2013, at least 63 of these houses have been cited by county and city inspectors for housing code violations, either for conditions conducive to lead poisoning, which are prohibited by the Erie County Sanitary Code, or for chipping, peeling, or deteriorating paint, which is prohibited by both the county and city. The landlords frequently allowed paint on their properties to deteriorate to the point of being a lead hazard instead of preventing deterioration of paint, as required by local and state building codes, and only addressed the lead hazard after a lead-poisoned child was discovered. The group also consistently violated federal lead disclosure requirements by providing either no lead disclosure statement to tenants or false disclosures, which stated that the landowner had no reports of lead paint or lead paint hazards, when in fact there were multiple reports of lead paint and lead paint hazards regarding the residences.
The OAG began its investigation into Dalfin and the other individuals and entities in 2017, when upon a painstaking review of county and city violation histories, tax records, deed transfers, and corporate filings, the office identified the interrelated group of landlords and property managers with a record of repeated and persistent lead paint violations and childhood lead poisonings. Since 2017, OAG has found that the group violated the law in other ways, such as:
- Using shell companies to avoid complying with city rental registration requirements;
- Failing to comply with city and state property management and real estate broker licensing requirements;
- Conducting business in New York without authority to do so from the Department of State; and
- Initiating evictions of tenants in lead-poisoned houses in violation of New York law.
The poisoning of children from lead paint in aging rental housing is an ongoing national public health crisis, but is of particular concern within New York, and especially the Buffalo region. Tens of thousands of rental properties in Buffalo that were constructed before 1978 contain lead paint which, if not properly maintained and managed, can cause lead poisoning. If such properties are properly maintained, however, lead poisoning can be prevented.
The health impacts of lead paint in rental housing are particularly acute in the Buffalo region, where children who live in communities of color are 12 times as likely than children who live in predominately white neighborhoods to be diagnosed with an elevated blood lead level. Elevated blood lead levels are also more prevalent in Buffalo’s low-income neighborhoods than high-income neighborhoods.
According to a 2018 study, the city of Buffalo “suffers from some of the highest rates” of childhood lead exposure in the nation from “poor housing conditions in old homes with lead paint.” Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in 2017, 715 children in Erie County under six years of age tested with blood lead levels between 5 and 9 µg/dL, and 415 children tested with blood lead levels of 10 µg/dL or higher. The CDC recommends that children with blood lead levels higher than 5 µg/dL undergo case management to prevent further exposure and to avoid reaching a level that requires medical intervention. That same year, Erie County was the only county in New York in which children who tested with blood lead levels exceeding 45 µg/dL were reported.
Attorney General James thanks Erie County and the city of Buffalo for their partnership and for providing critical information for this complaint. The OAG will continue to work with them and other dedicated local partners to continue to make progress in combatting childhood lead poisoning in the region.
“I am proud to have the city be a partner in this suit with Attorney General James and our partners in the county,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. “Buffalo’s residents deserve to live in homes that are safe, secure and stable, especially when so many of us have been forced to spend a greater period of time in our homes as a result of the COVID-19 global health pandemic. Property owners and managers that knowingly rent substandard units to low-income residents ought to be punished to the full extent of the law. Endangering a child in the place they are supposed to feel most secure is the worst form of exploitation.”
“We have been working hard to protect families from lead paint poisoning in Erie County and I thank the Attorney General for bringing this lawsuit against scofflaw landlords who refuse to do their part in the fight,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “Children’s lives and futures are a stake in this ongoing effort, and the actions we take today will help to safeguard our youth and punish those who would harm them.”
“Families living in Buffalo’s older, distressed properties are disproportionately vulnerable to the serious health consequences of lead poisoning,” said U.S. Representative Brian Higgins. “This action by Attorney General James holds those who have repeatedly violated housing codes accountable and protects the health and safety of our children.”
“Lead exposure continues to be a very real problem across New York state, and our children are suffering long-term as a result,” said State Senator Tim Kennedy. “A 2017 Reuters investigation revealed that several zip codes in the city of Buffalo were some of the most saturated lead-burdened communities in the country, which is why I cosponsor Dakota's Law in the State Senate. Any landlord or group that fails to address properties that contain these dangerous levels of lead need to be held accountable, and I commend the Attorney General for taking action.”
“I have seen the impact of lead poisoning on members of my own family, and one of my proudest moments as a legislator was the creation of a pilot program to expand educational intervention services for children who suffer from lead poisoning,” said Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin. “I commend Attorney General Letitia James for filing suit against landlords who have so flagrantly ignored the laws we have put in place to protect our children. She is a courageous advocate for the children and families of Western New York.”
“What these landlords did was monstrous,” said Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson. “They have damaged the lives of countless children in our community. We are fortunate to have Letitia James in our corner as Attorney General. Her commitment to investigating and identifying these individuals demonstrates her dedication and commitment to defending the most vulnerable members of our society.”
“The fact that the city of Buffalo will be joining in this lawsuit as a co-plaintiff in this case is major,” said Buffalo Councilmember Mitch Nowakowski. “The residents in Broadway-Fillmore, and throughout the entire city, have been held hostage for decades by slumlords who have left housing stock uninhabitable and detrimental to the health, safety, and sustainability of our neighborhoods. They neglect their properties with no regard for the families who live there, subjecting them to substandard housing and a substandard quality of life. I thank Attorney General James for taking on one of the largest slumlords in Buffalo and holding them to account for their negligence.”
“Recognizing that approximately 80 percent of Buffalo’s children with elevated blood lead levels live in rental singles and doubles, the Buffalo and Erie County Lead Safe Task Force has been linking arms with partners in the city, county and New York state to eradicate lead poisoning in many ways,” said Cara Matteliano, senior director, Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, convener of the Buffalo & Erie County Lead Safe Task Force. “We are grateful for Attorney General Letitia James’ commitment to furthering this collaborative mission by holding landlords accountable for their properties’ violations to ensure that every child has the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential.”
The OAG has been active in holding landlords and property managers accountable for violating childhood lead poisoning prevention laws in New York. In February 2020, Attorney General James filed a lawsuit against Chestnut Holdings of New York, Inc., a property management corporation, for failing to comply with provisions of New York City’s lead poisoning prevention law. The suit alleges that Chestnut Holdings has put the health of its tenants at risk by repeatedly violating the New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, which requires property owners to take several critical measures to prevent children under six from being exposed to paint with dangerously high levels of lead.
This matter is being handled by the Environmental Protection Bureau of the New York Attorney General’s Office and is led by Assistant Attorneys General Matthew Eisenson and Patrick Omilian, Special Assistant Attorney General Marissa Lieberman-Klein, Environmental Scientist Jennifer Nalbone, Science Interns Meredith Seibold and Serena Labrecque, and GIS Intern Gregory Welter. This matter was supervised by Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, and all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.