PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State leaders on Tuesday sued a large-scale Rhode Island landlord, accusing him of repeatedly allowing his properties to fall into illegal disrepair resulting in at least five children being lead poisoned.
R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha and Health Department Director Dr. Uptala Bandy filed the civil lawsuit in R.I. Superior Court, alleging Pioneer LLC and its owner, Anurag Sureka, routinely violated state laws and building codes, which subjected families and children to significant health and safety risks.
“Consumer-tenants living in Pioneer’s properties report being subject to significant lead poisoning hazards, persistent rodent infestations, deterioration of structural support, cracking walls and windows, and at times, the lack of basic utilities like heat and water,” the state leaders wrote in the complaint.
Sureka, a Massachusetts resident, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Samuel Grossack, an attorney for Pioneer, said he had not yet read the complaint so he could not comment yet.
The lawsuit comes after tenants and advocacy groups repeatedly raised concerns over living conditions at properties owned by Pioneer.
The landlord owns 175 residential units across Rhode Island, according to the lawsuit. And state leaders allege the company has shown a pattern of violations and “failure to adhere to proper lead hazard mitigation and notification and maintenance code compliance.”
According to a Health Department analysis, 11 children were found to have detectable levels of lead and at least five children had been lead-poisoned while living at Pioneer properties.
“Let’s cut right to it – as alleged, profits are being placed over basic human dignity and that cannot stand,” Neronha said in a statement, noting that nearly 500 children are lead poisoned every year.
“It is preventable, and the toll that these children and we as a community pay is enormous,” he added.”
Reclaim RI, an advocacy group that’s led efforts to raise awareness around the living conditions at Pioneer properties, lauded the state’s decision to sue the landlord. The group calling it a historic moment in prosecution and “the power of tenant organizing.”
“It sends a clear message that no slumlord is above the law,” Reclaim RI tenant organizer Shana Crandell said in a statement, highlighting that newly two dozen Pioneer tenants shared their personal stories with the attorney general.
“Today’s news should be a warning to every negligent, abusive, and predatory landlord in the state that the era of collecting rent for abhorrent conditions is over,” Crandell added.
The 40-page lawsuit outlines a series of alarming living conditions experienced by tenants across different properties, including a recurring theme of rodent infestations “so severe that they report rodents living and dying in walls and ceilings,” according to the report.
“One consumer-tenant reported that rats can be heard running through the walls and ceilings at all hours of the day, and in some instances, their urine and fecal matter discolor the ceilings and make the units smell of decaying rodent carcasses,” the state leaders wrote in the complaint.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
Jacqui Gomersall and Kate Wilkinson contributed to this report.