AG James Sues Syracuse Landlord for Violating Lead Safety Laws
Published on July 17, 2023
The below press release was prepared by the Office of the New York State Attorney General. It can be found on the Attorney General's website here.
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, and Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh today filed a lawsuit against Syracuse landlord Todd L. Hobbs and his companies — TLH Holdings LLC and TLH Properties LLC — for repeated and persistent violations of lead safety laws at more than a dozen rental properties in and around Syracuse. Between 2016 and the present, there were 413 violations of lead safety laws at 19 different properties owned by Hobbs, and at least 11 children were poisoned by lead while living at those properties.
In the complaint filed today, Attorney General James, County Executive McMahon, and Mayor Walsh seek to require Hobbs to pay substantial penalties and thousands in restitution to the impacted families and disgorge all ill-gotten profits, such as rent payments. They are also seeking an order to stop Hobbs’ harmful housing practices and require him to inspect every unit for lead hazards on a regular basis; swiftly remediate all lead exposure risks in a safe manner; and provide tenants with legal and accurate lead disclosures.
“No parent should have to question whether their children are safe living in their own homes,” said Attorney General James. “By failing to properly address lead paint hazards, Todd Hobbs betrayed his tenants’ trust and put families’ health and well-being in danger. In New York and nationwide, children of color and their families are exposed to lead paint at disproportionate and alarming rates. We have fought to address this public health crisis across the state, and we will continue to go after landlords who flout our lead safety laws so all children can grow up in healthy homes.”
“Syracuse is fighting against lead contamination every day. I am grateful to Attorney General James and her team for helping us hold bad landlords accountable and forcing them to provide safe housing,” said Syracuse Mayor Walsh. “We will not accept property owners profiting while children and families suffer from lead poisoning. With the help of Onondaga County and the state, we will keep going after dangerous landlords to protect our most vulnerable.”
Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause serious and irreversible adverse health effects. Children who have been exposed to even very low levels of lead are at risk for neurological and physical problems during critical stages of early development. In fact, no lead level in children has been identified as safe. Children under the age of six are more likely to be exposed to lead than any other age group, as their normal behaviors have resulted in chewing lead paint chips, and breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors, windowsills, and hands.
Lead-based paint in residential housing is a pervasive problem in Syracuse because 81 percent of the housing stock was built before lead-based paint was banned in New York in 1970. Lead poisoning in Onondaga County is highest among children of color, the majority of whom live in Syracuse. In 2022, 510 children in Onondaga County had elevated levels of lead in their blood, and 90 percent of those children lived in Syracuse. More than 11 percent of the Black children tested in 2021 had elevated blood lead levels, compared to just two percent of white children tested. According to city and county records, all of Hobbs’ rental properties were built prior to 1960.
Since 2014, Hobbs has owned and managed at least 62 rental properties with at least 91 individual residential units in the Syracuse area, primarily rented by low-income families of color. Despite being cited numerous times for hundreds of lead paint violations, Hobbs failed to properly address lead-based paint hazards at his rental properties.
Hobbs routinely violated city, county, state, and federal laws by allowing lead paint to deteriorate, and further violated regulations dictating how to safely repair lead paint hazards and communicate risks to tenants. Hobbs’ properties have frequently been cited for chipping and peeling paint, as well as other conditions conducive to lead poisoning. Hobbs regularly failed to supervise and ensure that workers used mandatory, lead safe work practices and that tenants were properly notified, warned, and protected from lead hazards while work was being done. As a result, lead dust and lead-based paint chips were often left in living areas, which is extremely dangerous to residents, especially children, who could ingest or inhale them. Hobbs also repeatedly failed to provide tenants with accurate lead disclosures upon renting and did not warn residents of lead hazards associated with renovations.
The complaint alleges that, because Hobbs failed to prevent and properly remedy these hazards, at least 11 children suffered lead poisoning while living at his properties. The lawsuit seeks full disgorgement of all ill-gotten profits, such as rent payments received, and penalties of up to $5,000 for every false, misleading, or non-existent lead disclosure Hobbs provided to tenants over the years. Attorney General James is also seeking thousands of dollars in restitution for the families of every child poisoned by lead while living at a Hobbs property.
The lawsuit also seeks robust injunctive relief to swiftly identify and eliminate lead paint hazards at all Hobbs properties in an order requiring Hobbs to:
- Immediately correct all existing lead paint-related violations cited by the City or County that are past their respective deadlines;
- Require a lead-based paint risk assessment at each of Hobbs’ residences through a third-party Environmental Protection Agency certified risk assessor approved by OAG;
- Create a Lead Safe Work Plan for removing and/or remediating all conditions conducive to lead poisoning following the inspection;
- Promptly make any renovations necessary using EPA certified lead-based paint professionals and properly trained and certified workers; and
- Hire an independent monitor to supervise and report to OAG on the defendants’ compliance.
Attorney General James thanks Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse for their close collaboration and partnership on this matter.
“My child was poisoned by lead in the apartment we rented from Hobbs. He is responsible for the lead, and he was very unprofessional and disrespectful to my repeated attempts to have it fixed. I thank the Attorney General for suing to stop him from putting his tenant families in danger,” said a current Hobbs tenant.
“As a leader in Families for Lead Freedom Now, I am very glad to hear of this action from Attorney General Letitia James,” said Mrs. Darlene Medley, a parent and Founding Member of Families for Lead Freedom Now. “It’s about DAMN time landlords face consequences for the poisoning of our children. Our babies’ health should be protected in their homes, wherever they live. The children are our community’s future and this action really stands out to give our children a fair chance at the start of life. As a mother of lead-affected children and an advocate for lead-freedom, it feels like we are finally seeing years of advocacy work coming to fruition.”
“Thanks to the Attorney General, families in our community have new hope that landlords who willfully endanger their tenants’ health will be held accountable,” said Paul Ciavarri, Community Organizer for Legal Services of Central New York. “Continued defiance of the Syracuse Lead Ordinance will only increase costs on landlords, and in the meantime we support Attorney General James’ dedicated efforts to seek justice for tenants now.”
“Pediatricians too often see children suffer lasting harm to their brains from lead poisoning, which is an entirely preventable problem,” said Dr. Travis Hobart, Medical Director of Central/Eastern NY Lead Poisoning Resource Center, SUNY Upstate Medical University. “This is why, in addition to treating lead poisoning, the Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center at Upstate Medical University works so hard with all of our community partners to prevent exposure. I’m thankful to the Office of the Attorney General, as well as the Offices of the Mayor and County Executive, for again using their power to help protect some of the most vulnerable children in our community.”
“Childhood lead poisoning in Central New York is a tough and relentless opponent, but it can be defeated if the community is united in the fight,” said Darrell Buckingham, Program Officer for Strategic Initiatives at Central New York Community Foundation. “The LeadSafeCNY Coalition encourages landlords to get involved to learn ways they can make their properties, and their young tenants, safe from lead. Let’s stay focused and remember that this is round two of a bigger fight.”
This lawsuit is the latest in Attorney General James’ efforts to hold landlords and property managers accountable for violating childhood lead poisoning prevention laws in New York. In June 2022, Attorney General James shut down Syracuse landlord John Kiggins and his company, Endzone Properties, Inc., for repeatedly violating lead paint laws and failing to address lead paint hazards, which resulted in the lead poisoning of 18 children living in Endzone properties in Syracuse.
In March, Attorney General James sued Buffalo landlord Farhad Raiszadeh for repeated and flagrant violations of lead safety laws at dozens of properties in East Buffalo. In November 2022, Attorney General James secured $5.1 million in restitution and penalties to fund ongoing childhood lead poisoning prevention programs administered by the City of Buffalo and Erie County, as a result of a September 2020 lawsuit against a group of individuals and companies in the Buffalo region for illegally allowing lead paint-related hazards to proliferate in their rental properties. In March 2022, the Attorney General led a multistate coalition in calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen protections against lead poisoning, particularly for children living in low-income communities and communities of color. In September 2021, Attorney General James announced an agreement in her lawsuit against Chestnut Holdings of New York, Inc., a property management corporation, over its failures to protect children from lead paint hazards in New York City. Also in September 2021, Attorney General James reached a pre-suit agreement with A&E Real Estate Holdings, LLC to ensure that children living in its New York City apartments are protected from dangerous lead-based paint.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Abigail Katowitz and Patrick Omilian, Special Assistant Attorney General Sharde Slaw, Environmental Scientist Jennifer Nalbone, Project Assistant Isabel Murphy, and Legal Intern Victoria Borlase of the Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.