PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A package of bills seeking to prevent childhood lead poisoning was signed into law Thursday by Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee.
The new laws were designed to hold property owners accountable for lead safety violations and allow families affected by lead poisoning to be financially compensated.
Getting the legislation passed was a priority for Attorney General Peter Neronha, who recently took legal action against a landlord who allegedly caused several children to contract lead poisoning.
Lead paint was banned at the federal level in 1978, but officials say some landlords have failed to comply with those regulations.
“This is totally inexcusable,” state Sen. Dawn Euer said. “We must be more proactive and ensure this does not happen again. That means better tracking and enforcing compliance before kids get exposed.”
The first bill, sponsored by Euer and Deputy Majority Whip Ackerman, establishes a statewide rental registry where landlords must submit information to the R.I. Department of Health. Those with buildings built after 1978 would have to file a lead conformance certificate.
“The stories of these parents are absolutely heartbreaking,” Ackerman said. “These bills will ensure this does not happen again and all Rhode Island children get to grow and thrive in a lead-free environment.”
Another one of the bills, sponsored by state Sen. Tiara Mack and Rep. David Morales, has tenants pay rent into an escrow account when there are unaddressed lead hazards in their home. The landlords would not have to access that money until the issues are addressed.
“Everyone deserves safe, quality housing, and that includes having a lead-free environment,” Mack said.
“Regardless of one’s socioeconomic status, all renters across our state deserve to live in a safe home that is free of lead hazards,” Morales added. “This is why it is so important that we develop and enforce accountability standards that allow tenants to redirect their rent payments away from their landlord until the necessary repairs have been completed. Only then will we have lead-free homes that prioritize the health of renters.”
The final bill helps families recover up to three times their damages if their landlord violates lead safety laws. It was sponsored by state Sen. Valarie Lawson and Rep. Matthew Dawson.
“You can’t put a price on your child’s health,” Lawson said. “If an irresponsible landlord, like what’s alleged to have happened in the Pioneer case, poisons a child with lead, the family should be fully empowered to take them to court and hold them accountable. And hopefully that makes negligent landlords think twice about skirting the law.”
“Lead poisoning is a serious problem that is still affecting far too many residents in the state, and if landlords are willfully neglecting necessary lead mitigation practices, they should be held accountable for putting their tenants at risk,” Dawson said. “This bill will allow renters to seek the restitution they deserve if they are exposed to the dangers of lead by neglectful property owners.”