Testimony of The Real Estate Board of New York Before the New York City Council Committees on Housing and Buildings, Health, and Environmental Protection Council Chambers, City Hall

INTRODUCTION

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the City’s leading real estate trade association, representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers and brokers, applauds the Council’s efforts to address childhood lead-poisoning in New York City which can cause acute developmental challenges for young children, such as a lower IQ, even at low levels (10 µg/dL).[1] Our members have taken careful measures to comply with current EPA & City guidelines ensuring that units remain safe after renovations and repairs, and informing residents of members’ responsibility to notify, investigate and remediate units to maintain lead-safe housing.

The City Council has ambitiously proposed 25 separate bills that introduce new protections against lead poisoning while also expanding existing laws across three key areas: soil, water, lead-based paint. Since 2005, when the City enacted its first protections against lead-poisoning, lead-blood levels dramatically declined by more than 90% for children below six with levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), placing the annual rate of identified cases at 2.3 cases per 1,000 children as of 2017.[2] REBNY is proud of the work done with the City to achieve these reductions, and looks forward to finding opportunities to continue this trend.

REBNY applauds the Council’s efforts to review and go beyond current lead inspection policies, and agrees that there should be continued improvements over existing laws to continue to lower instances of childhood lead poisoning. However, some of the proposed bills are far too heavy-handed, requiring measures that will ultimately require trade-offs to the City’s affordable housing stock and possibly the public’s safety. Coupled with the fact that the need for many of these bills are not scientifically supported, the resources owners will invest into their properties to comply with these bills will result in marginal improvements to housing and public health. We believe that our collective resources are better served if efforts were redirected to the specific neighborhoods where elevated blood lead levels are most prevalent.[3]

We also recommend that the City offer legislative solutions that address specific lapses in compliance to strengthen current guidelines and laws. One such lapse in compliance is related to chronic underreporting and lack of enforcement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations in NYCHA housing.[4] Another is related to the City’s lack of enforcement of currently required inspection requirements on owners where children below the age of six years reside.[5]  

REBNY appreciates the opportunity to provide the following specific comments on the proposed bills:

 

INTRO NO:       873

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to

permanent removal of lead-based paint

SPONSORS:    Chin, Koslowitz, Kallos

The bill requires owners to ensure units are free of lead-based paint upon unit turnover. The bill language lacks clarity regarding what is meant by "free of lead-based paint” and “encapsulation.” Current standard practice allows owners to encapsulate lead-paint with a lead-paint encapsulant, and as long as a surface is not friable or abrasive there is no scientific basis it would result in adverse health effects.[6] If the Council is suggesting encapsulation may only be achieved by adding new layers of sheetrock or through gut-renovation as the primary means to achieve lead-safe dwelling, they will add wholly unnecessary and significant costs to remediation, forcing rents to increase to help pay for these unnecessary, costly renovations. The added costs of remediating lead-based paint to these new standards will severely impact small owners and their ability to afford such improvements. Disrupting lead at these levels may exacerbate and create additional health hazards. Lastly, adding layers of sheet rock will only make repairs within the wall, such as plumbing leaks harder to access.

 

INTRO NO:       919

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to investigations of lead-based paint hazards by independent and certified inspectors

SPONSORS:    Torres, Treyger, Holden, Cumbo, Kallos

REBNY is supportive of a provision requiring owners to annually inspect units where a known presence of lead-based hazard exists—and they already do so as required by law, however, this bill drastically expands the scope of housing covered by this requirement. Requiring EPA certified inspectors to perform a visual inspection to identify “lead-based paint hazard,” which is defined as any condition causing exposure to lead from lead-contaminated dust, peeling or chewable lead based paint or from a deteriorated subsurface,[7] is cost-prohibitive and could have deleterious impacts on affordable housing over time. Visual inspections may be adequately performed by owners provided they follow lead-safe EPA guidelines. There is no appreciable difference with having an EPA certified inspector perform the visual inspection. Furthermore, this bill will apply to areas where lead contamination is not a problem by requiring inspections of all pre-1960 housing. The NYC Department of Health and Hygiene (DOHMH) reports show the highest reported levels of elevated blood-lead (above 5 µg/dL) occur in Brooklyn, followed by Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, respectively, with the highest rates reported across the following neighborhoods: Greenpoint, Brooklyn at 51.9, Southwest Queens at 19.7, Fordham – Bronx Park, Bronx at 17.5, Central Harlem, Manhattan at 13.4 and Port Richmond, Staten Island at 22.6 (per thousand).[8] The City should focus any new inspection requirements on neighborhoods with the highest reported cases of elevated levels. Lastly, the bill language lacks clarity and fails to clearly identify the responsible party needing to remediate surfaces in cooperatives and condominiums.

 

INTRO NO:       916

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to remediating lead soil hazards in dwellings

SPONSORS:    Salamanca, King, Holden, Cumbo, Kallos

Detected levels of lead-hazards in soil can arise from dust in the environment, likely from overhead subways, fire escapes or bridges containing lead-based paint. In light of the most recent DOHMH reports stating lead-paint hazards are the leading cause of lead-exposure,[9] there is little, if any, scientific basis for requiring soil remediation to the extent this bill does. Furthermore, the Council should provide greater clarity in defining the scope intended by “covered soil area.” If the bill intends to bring any and all types of landscaping (from planters or sidewalks to bigger landscaped lawns) into compliance it could add a significant expense for owners, forcing higher rents to pay for compliance. In order to avoid liability for a potential discovery, owners throughout the City may be forced to concrete over potentially exposed areas.

 

INTRO NO:       874

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to improving interagency cooperation, and issuing stop work orders, in connection with lead paint and construction work

SPONSORS:    Chin, Torres, Cumbo, Kallos

While REBNY agrees with the Council that lead-paint hazards should be cured immediately following

discovery, authorizing two different City agencies with the authority to issue stop work orders for unrelated violations is counterproductive. All permitted work should not be interrupted or delayed for any reason other than for a violation for work related to the permitted area.

 

INTRO NO:       868

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to remediating lead water hazards in dwellings

SPONSORS:    Ampry-Samuel, Holden, Koslowitz, Cumbo, Kallos

REBNY appreciates the Council’s efforts to prevent lead-contaminants in water, however, requiring owners to install water filtration systems or that they otherwise provide a water filtration pitcher within units where children of applicable age reside may not be necessary. The Council should only enact such legislation if lead testing shows lead hazards are present in the water supply, especially since owners typically replace piping anytime there is a known leak.

 

INTRO NO:       864

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to investigation by the department of health and mental hygiene in connection with lead poisoning incidents

SPONSORS:    Johnson, Holden, Cumbo, Kallos

The Council should outline investigative procedures for DOHMH to follow. Otherwise, the bill could result in the issuance of unrelated building violations.

 

INTRO NO:       907

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to remediating lead soil hazards in certain facilities serving children

SPONSORS:    Rodriguez, Holden, Cumbo

The Council should clarify the intended scope of this bill. Remediating large, expansive areas add significant costs to owners for efforts that may not be necessary.

 

INTRO NO:       420

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to soil lead hazards in parks and other publicly accessible areas

SPONSORS:    Constantinides, Holden, Cumbo

The Council should clarify the affected areas. The lack of clarity purported by the bill language may impede development efforts of privately owned public spaces (POPS) and the maintenance of green spaces, which is widely known to improve public health and lower crime.[10]

 

INTRO NO:       865

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to lead reference/action levels and standards relating to lead-based paint hazards

SPONSORS:    Johnson, Holden, Kallos

The Council’s proposed levels fall in line with the recommended threshold by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and HUD, which help to identify children at risk for lead poisoning earlier, reducing their risks for lead exposure. Setting a clear, new base level will not only promote transparency, but it will eliminate instances of underreporting by City agencies.[11] We are significantly concerned regarding the proposal that would amend the definition of lead-based paint. Lowering the threshold from 1.0 mg of lead per square cm or greater, to 0.3 mg of lead per square cm is a dramatic reduction that significantly differs from what has normally been considered to be an acceptable standard. Further, the universe of buildings that this would affect is still unclear. REBNY believes there must be additional conversations with the City regarding this proposal’s impact on housing in conjunction with the other bills being considered.

 

INTRO NO:       464

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to investigation by the department of health and mental hygiene of dwelling units in which children identified with elevated blood lead levels routinely visit

SPONSORS:    Dromm, Cumbo, Kallos

REBNY supports the Council’s efforts to improve reporting practices to better identify sources of lead exposure. The practice should be expanded to healthcare providers to assist in determining where the biggest improvements can be made to prevent and identify lead exposure as early as possible.

 

INTRO NO:       920

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to remediating lead paint hazards in certain facilities serving children

SPONSORS:    Treyger, Holden, Koslowitz, Cumbo, Kallos

The City Council should consult the New York State Department of Health, which has regulations in place for day care providers regarding lead-based hazards before enacting further enhancements that could deter owners from leasing space to these providers.

 

INTRO NO:       91

SUMMARY:      A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to remediating lead water hazards in day care facilities

SPONSORS:    King, Vallone, Koo, Levin, Cornegy, Maisel, Holden, Cumbo

Again, the City Council should consult the New York State Department of Health, which has regulations in place for day care providers regarding lead-based hazards before enacting further enhancements that could deter owners from leasing space to these providers.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony for today’s hearing. REBNY respectfully requests to receive updated drafts of the other bills on the docket should the Council decide to move forward, as amendments may affect our membership.

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[1] “What Do Parents Need to Know to Protect Their Children?” Centers for Disease Control. Last Updated October 30, 2012. Accessed September 11, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/lead_levels_in_children_fact_sheet.pdf.

[2] Report to the New York City Council on Progress in Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning in New York City. NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. August 30, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2018. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/lead/lead-rep-cc-annual-18.pdf

[3] Quarterly Reports 1 & 2 on Childhood Blood Lead Level Surveillance. NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. August 2018. <https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/lead/lead-quarterly-report.pdf> Accessed September 26, 2018.

[4] Ferré-Sadurní, Luis. “Little Decline in Number of Children in Public Housing With High Lead Levels, Report Says.” The New York Times. August 30, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/30/nyregion/nyc-public-housing-lead.html. Accessed September 11, 2018.   

[5] Hicks, Nolan. “NYC Has Never Sued Under Law Requiring Landlords to Test for Lead Paint.” The New York Post. September 25, 2018. Accessed September 26, 2018. < https://nypost.com/2018/09/25/nyc-has-never-sued-a-landlord-who-failed-to-inspect-for-lead-paint-report/>

[6] “Hazard Standards for Lead in Pain, Dust and Soil (TSCA Section 403).” U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Updated June 22, 2018. <https://www.epa.gov/lead/hazard-standards-lead-paint-dust-and-soil-tsca-section-403> Accessed September 26, 2018.

[7] NYC Administrative Code § 27-2056.2 (6)

[8] Environment & Health Data Portal. NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. < http://a816-dohbesp.nyc.gov/IndicatorPublic/VisualizationData.aspx?id=2184,4466a0,14,Summarize> Accessed September 26, 2018.

[9] Report on the New York City Council on Progress in Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning in New York City. NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. August 30, 2018. < https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/lead/lead-rep-cc-annual-18.pdf> Accessed September 26, 2018.

[10] Anuta, Joe. “As Green Space Went Up, Crime Went Down in Poor Neighborhoods.” Crain’s. August 21, 2018. < http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20180821/REAL_ESTATE/180829973/as-green-space-went-up-crime-went-down-in-poor-neighborhoods> Accessed September 26, 2018.

[11] Pattani, Aneri. “NYC Undercounts Thousands of Children Most At Risk for Lead Exposure.” WNYC News. March 21, 2018. Accessed September 11, 2018. https://www.wnyc.org/story/nyc-undercounts-thousands-children-at-risk-lead/