A Washington, D.C.-area landlord will serve two years in prison for obstructing an investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and making false statements to federal officials in the first-ever criminal prosecution in the United States related to failure to give lead hazard warnings that are required by the federal Lead Hazard Reduction Act of 1992.
Judge Deborah Chasanow of the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., also sentenced David D. Nuyen, 65, of Silver Spring, Md., to pay a fine of $50,000. She ruled he tried to conceal his failure to notify tenants of the presence and possible hazards associated with lead-based paint.
"This case sends a message to landlords that they have a responsibility to warn their tenants of known lead hazards in their apartments," said Thomas M. DiBiagio, U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland. "This office will aggressively prosecute those who lie and engage in obstructive conduct to avoid the requirements of the Lead Hazard Reduction Act."
As part of his guilty plea, Nuyen has provided all tenants with new notices about lead paint assessments performed by an independent contractor required under the terms of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
"Lead poisoning perils have long been known, and laws exist to protect people - especially children - from being exposed to lead hazards," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice''s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This case exemplifies our commitment to enforce the federal lead disclosure requirements to protect the public and our children from these unnecessary health risks."
Nuyen owns and manages approximately 15 low-income apartment buildings in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Nuyen admitted that he had notice of actual lead-paint hazards in one of his apartment buildings from District of Columbia lead inspectors, who informed him that they found lead in the building. However, Nuyen failed to disclose actual and potential lead hazards before leasing to tenants.
The Lead Hazard Reduction Act requires landlords to give tenants warnings, which can be done by using a standard disclosure form, about actual and potential lead paint hazards present in the property, and an EPA pamphlet about how to minimize the dangers to children. The law also directs landlords to document their compliance with the law by keeping lead disclosure forms and tenant signatures on file. Nuyen attended classes on the Act in 1997 and 1998 to fulfill his requirements to continue to be licensed as a realtor in Maryland and Virginia.
In addition to the obstruction of justice and false statements charges in Maryland, Nuyen was also sentenced on a companion case in the District of Columbia charging that he failed to provide the required lead warning and lead hazard pamphlet in violation of the Lead Hazard Reduction Act.
Lead poisoning is a significant health risk for young children. Although ingesting lead is hazardous to all humans, children under six years of age are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning because their bodies are still developing and because ordinary hand-to-mouth activity brings them into frequent contact with lead in paint chips, dust and soil. Lead adversely affects virtually every system of the body, and it can impair a child''s central nervous system, kidneys and bone marrow. At high levels can cause coma, convulsions and death.
by Sandy Smith ([email protected])