Attorney General Neronha issues guidance to Rhode Island landlords about new lead poisoning prevention laws

Published on Thursday, January 11, 2024

Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced today that the Office has issued guidance to Rhode Island landlords, reminding property owners of their new responsibilities following the passage of lead poisoning prevention laws that will increase compliance with existing lead laws.

  • The “rental registry” law, R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-58, establishes a statewide rental registry to be established and managed by the Rhode Island Department of Health and mandates that all landlords register their rental units by October 1, 2024. Additionally, landlords who rent properties built before 1978 are required to file lead conformance certificates – which are already required by law – through the registry.
     
  • The “escrow” law, R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-128.1-14 allows tenants to petition the court to pay their rent into an escrow account when their unit is not compliant with lead hazard risk reduction laws, including lacking a required lead-safe certificate, or when there are otherwise unaddressed lead hazards in their homes. This law is now in effect.
     
  • The “treble damages” law, R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-128.1-11, allows tenants affected by lead poisoning to recover up to three times their actual monetary damages if their landlord has violated lead safety laws. This law is now in effect.
     
  • Finally, R.I. Gen. Law § 42-128.1-8 was amended to require that landlords of owner-occupied units obtain lead certificates for their pre-1978 rental units, regardless of the number of units in the building, beginning on January 1, 2024.

 

“Every child in every home in Rhode Island deserves to be safe from lead poisoning, and these laws will help us end childhood lead poisoning in our state once and for all,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Three of these new laws stem from our Office’s increased involvement in lead enforcement, and do not impose any new requirements. Rather, they work to ensure landlords comply with the requirements already in place and take the necessary steps to keep Rhode Islanders safe. I am very grateful to the community of legislators, advocates and stakeholders who helped pass these crucial laws.”

“Last session the General Assembly acted to protect renters and penalize landlords who fail to comply with lead-safety laws,” said Senator Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I want to thank the lawmakers who sponsored and championed these bills, starting with our new Senate Majority Whip, Valerie Lawson, my fellow senators Tiara Mack and Jonathon Acosta and our colleagues in the House: Deputy Minority Whip Mia Ackerman, Rep. David Morales, Rep. Matthew Dawson and Rep. Brandon Voas. I also want to thank Attorney General Neronha and his staff for providing critical leadership on lead hazard mitigation, including taking action to hold negligent property owners accountable.”

“The effects of lead poisoning on children are severe and long-lasting, and the worst part is that lead poisoning is entirely preventable,” said House Deputy Majority Whip Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln). “I was very proud to join my partners in the legislature to enact laws to ensure that Rhode Island children are protected from these avoidable dangers, and I am thrilled that Attorney General Neronha has issued guidance to ensure compliance with the new legislation. All children deserve to grow and thrive in a lead-free environment.”

Lead Enforcement Action by Attorney General Neronha

Lead enforcement has been a priority for Attorney General Neronha. The Attorney General has filed more than 19 lawsuits and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties from landlords who have failed to fully address serious lead violations related to properties where lead poisoned children lived, including filing a complaint in Providence County Superior Court against a large Rhode Island landlord, Pioneer Investments LLC, and the company’s president, Anurag Sureka, alleging Pioneer’s failure to comply with lead-safety laws, among other infractions. Pioneer owns and operates over 175 rental properties around the state.

In January 2023, Attorney General Neronha announced lead remediation agreements totaling more than $700,000 in value. In April and May 2022, the Attorney General filed lead enforcement lawsuits against Pawtucket and Woonsocket landlords. In March 2022, the Attorney General filed lead enforcement lawsuits against four Providence landlords following the lead poisoning of children living at each of their properties.

As a result of actions by the Office, more than 65 housing units have been remediated following the issuance of intent to sue letters, pre-suit negotiations, and lawsuits.

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