Fortunato: Housing Authority’s Failure to Disclose Lead Paint to Tenants Could Mean 6-Figure Penalties

letter to the editorLetter to the Editor : HATG Monthly Commission Meeting at Armstrong Court

I attended the Housing Authority (HATG) meeting on Wednesday March 25, 2015 at Armstrong Court and was stunned to hear Anthony Johnson, Executive Director, announce that he planned to disregard the P&Z conditional requirement for preliminary site plan approval. P&Z ordered the Housing Authority go back and retest soil for contamination. Further surprising me even more was Mr. Johnson’s interview with Greenwich free Press, stating that there was no need to notify residents of Fuss & O’Neill’s EnviroScience findings of lead paint or elevated lead levels in the soil.
Mr. Johnson could not be more wrong. The laws requiring disclosure are very strict here, and penalties for noncompliance are steep.

According to EPA and HUD, since each Disclosure Rule requirement is a distinct obligation, failure to comply with any requirement constitutes a violation. Currently, Disclosure Rule violations are punishable up to $11,000 per violation. Thus, a landlord who completely fails to comply with the eleven obligations under the rule faces a potential penalty up to $121,000 per lease transaction (or $176,000 when the penalty is readjusted in late 2008 to $16,000594 ). Potential penalties can easily reach seven figures because an enforcement action typically involves multiple lease transactions for multiple target housing units.

As for Greenwich Planning & Zoning: They have the right and duty to require testing.  They are charged with the “health, safety and general welfare and the comfort and convenience of the general public.”

According to the Town of Greenwich Code:

Sec. 6-15. STANDARDS.

(a) The Planning and Zoning Commission may approve applications for preliminary site plans or deny applications for preliminary site plans according to the standards set forth in this Regulation. Alternatively, as a condition of approval, the Commission may require such modifications of the proposed plans as it deems necessary to comply with Regulations. In determining whether to approve application for preliminary site plans, deny such applications, or approve such application with modifications, the Planning and Zoning Commission shall take into consideration the public health, safety and general welfare and the comfort and convenience of the general public, taking into account whether the applicant has satisfied the following specific objectives: (5/4/2005)

The protection of environmental quality and the preservation and enhancement of property values. At least the following aspects of the site plan shall be evaluated to determine the conformity of a site plan to this standard:

Section 6-17 Special Permit 

  1. Standards
    In reviewing special permits, the Planning and Zoning Commission shall consider all the standards contained in Sec. 6-15(a). In granting any special permit the Commission shall consider in each case whether the proposed use will:

    1. (6)  Preserve or enhance important open space and other features of the natural environment and protect against deterioration of the quality of the environment, a related to the public health, safety and welfare. (6/11/86)
  1. (e)  In connection with Subsection (d) above, the Commission may require applicants for special permit to prepare and submit any additional data and studies as necessary to allow the Commission to arrive at its determinations.

The Commission’s own legal counsel was not permitted to speak by the Chairman, Sam Romeo. According to the published report, “During the discussion of the Fuss & O’Neill report, Housing Authority attorney Lou Pittocco asked to be recognized from the audience, but Mr. Romeo shook his head. “I am declining to acknowledge you,” Mr. Romeo said.

“Don’t want to take the risk,” Mr. Pittocco said.”

In conclusion, citizens of our community have legal rights with State and Federal enforcement that can be extremely costly to landlords. It would be a shame to risk the up-grades to Armstrong Court on the Commission’s failure to follow the law.

Dawn Fortunato
Neighbor to Armstrong Court.