Third Quarter 1999

Lead-based Paint Enforcement Initiatives

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Amy L. Edwards

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the EPA have instituted a significant, nationwide initiative to enforce the disclosure requirements of the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992.

On July 15, 1999, Attorney General Janet Reno and HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced "multiple court actions of more than $1 million," 45 administrative actions in 20 cities, and four settlements requiring owners of "target housing" to spend more than $1 million in lead-based paint abatement, $259,000 in fines and other substitute damages. In addition, the EPA had announced earlier that it was issuing civil complaints against landlords in Missouri and Kansas with proposed penalties of $56,200 and had instituted four civil law suits in Pennsylvania, Texas and Oklahoma alleging disclosure violations and seeking penalties totaling $439,725. HUD has also sought injunctive relief against alleged violators of the disclosure requirements.

At a recent seminar in Washington, D.C., on the disclosure requirements and the lead-based paint enforcement initiative, representatives of HUD and EPA discussed their respective approaches to enforcement of the Act. While HUD representatives stated that their goal was compliance with the Act, their further statements indicated that the agency's approach is geared toward penalty assessment and obtaining inspection and abatement agreements. Despite agency guidance recommending that HUD and EPA give first-time violators Notices of Non-Compliance (NONs) instead of seeking penalties and fines, HUD has not been providing NONs or giving property owners and managers an opportunity to cure alleged violations of the Act before bringing enforcement actions.

EPA, on the other hand, appears more willing to work with sellers, lessors and agents to achieve compliance. In response to questioning, HUD counsel acknowledged that the agency has not issued any NONs, whereas EPA has issued approximately 500 NONs. Unfortunately, enforcement under the Act, including the likelihood of penalties, depends upon whether HUD or EPA is conducting the investigation.

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