EAST VILLAGE, NY — High lead levels were found in an East Village apartment building shortly after a new owner took over the property — and advocates for the tenants are urging safeguards to make sure nobody's exposed to it as apartments are renovated.
Cooper Square Committee, the Lead Dust Free NYC Coalition, Councilwoman Carlina Rivera and tenants of 332 E. Fourth St. demanded at a rally Wednesday that the building's new owner prevent excessive lead-laden dust from covering the building's stairwell and hallway.
Evan Bell of Bell and Company bought 332 E. Fourth St., between avenues C and D, for $14 million in January. Soon after, Bell, a Hollywood business manager with a star-studded client list that has included Bill O'Reilly and Amanda Seyfried, began renovation work on the sixth floor of the building, Department of Buildings records show.
A lead inspection following the work found levels more than five times the Environmental Protection Agency standards for hallways and stairwells, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports released by tenants' advocates show. DOH confirmed the reports — revealing 13 samples were found above EPA standards. Up to 214 micrograms of lead in dust per square foot was found in hallway dust samples taken March 13, the report shows. The standard is 40 micrograms per square foot.
"The results were horrifying," Theresa Kimm, a single mother living with her 2.5-year-old daughter, said at the rally. She was caught unawares that a nearly 100-year-old building like hers could have lead-based paint — explaining she felt guilty for not knowing and then later felt singled out by Bell as a "problem tenant" when she began calling the city.
"I felt judged and very alone, even though I knew it was in my right to call the city to have an inspection done in my apartment," Kimm said. Bell's "actions showed that he seemed to have no regard for the law, or his tenants' health or quality of life, including my daughter who is just 2-years-old."
She fears her daughter's bedroom may be contaminated with lead paint and has filed complaints to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development about chipped and cracked paint in her apartment. HPD deferred to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regarding lead concerns — though HPD did issue a violation for a defective window guard, public records show. DOH confirmed lead dust found in mid-March, but it was unclear whether the city had tested Kimm's apartment in particular.
In an email to Patch, Bell said, "renovating 8 units & having one report of lead dust (which of course we regret) is pretty positive.
"We realized we [needed] to hire one worker to simply walk up & down & clean," he said, and since mid-March, there have been no reports of lead dust exposure. He added the company is working hard to protect tenants and improve the building.
"We desire to provide quality housing [with quality] systems to as many people as we can. That is impossible [without] some construction & the mess that it provides," he added.
On March 13, DOB issued three violations and a full stop work order for doing a full renovation under partial renovation permits, DOB spokesman Andrew Rudansky said. The full stop work order has since been reduced to a partial stop work order.
The additional violations were for not properly posting a tenant protection plan and a safe construction bill of rights in the building, as required by law — which have since been posted and the violations resolved, Rudansky said.
DOB has inspected the building as recently as April 22 and issued no new violations, Rudansky said.
More than two dozen people rallied for the tenants at 332 E. Fourth St. — chanting, "Evan use your head, we don't want lead!"
Laws to protect tenants from lead are on the books — such as Local Law 1 of 2004. Last month, City Council passed a package of legislationrequiring lead inspections under more circumstances, among other safeguards.
"What we're lacking right now is to enforce the laws," Rivera said.