Landlords Challenge New R.I. Lead Paint Law Over Exemptions

December 9, 2005

A group of landlords went to court Wednesday to ask a judge to strike down the state’s new lead paint law, saying it unfairly exempts certain property owners from following the regulations.

Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Fortunato Jr. was hearing arguments for and against the law, which is designed to protect renters from being exposed to the toxic paint.

The law, which took effect on Nov. 1, requires owners of properties built before 1978, when lead paint was banned nationwide, to take a lead awareness class, have their properties inspected and correct any hazards.

But it also exempts owner-occupied properties with three or fewer rental units from following the law. Opponents say those exemptions mean the law is unevenly applied.

More than 20 groups have filed a brief asking that the law be upheld.

Jan Flaherty, community organizer with Childhood Lead Action Project, one of the groups that joined in the friend-of-court brief, said earlier Wednesday that the owner-occupied exemption was sensible because landlords who stay at their properties are more likely to keep them well-maintained.

Wednesday’s hearing comes as a Superior Court jury in Providence continues to hear testimony in the state’s public nuisance lawsuit against companies that made lead paint and pigment.

Rep. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, who opposes the law and heads a group called Property Owners For Fair Application of the Lead Laws, said before the hearing that a significant number of lead poisoned children were poisoned at owner-occupied properties.

If the state believes it has a vast lead paint problem, Trillo said before the hearing, then it shouldn’t exempt those property owners from the law.

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