DOH Implements New Lead Dust Procedures in Response to Mahfar Alleged Tenant Harassment

Posted on: May 26th, 2015 at 5:00 am by

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102 Norfolk St., July 2014

Those following the saga of Samy Mahfar (aka SMA Equities) know that the controversial landlord allegedly subjected tenants to hazardous lead levels in at least two of his many Lower East Side Holdings. For instance, tests conducted by the Department of Health concluded that 102 Norfolk Street boasted 2,900 times the legal limit. The scary exposure became a rallying point, and thus the Mahfar Tenants’ Alliance was born.

The coalition – composed of tenants in four Mahfar-owned properties – took the offensive and leveled an impressive campaign for justice. Local advocates and politicians quickly joined the fight. It’s certainly far from over, but there are small gains.

Indeed, the only measurable silver lining to the terrible living conditions is reform within the city agencies. By exposing the exposure, as it were, the Department of Health was pressured into changing its “lead dust notification procedures.” We are told that the nascent change, enacted earlier this month, is directly related to the political advocacy on behalf of tenants as well as the flood of media exposure.

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The longstanding procedure to alert tenants of lead exposure was not transparent and favored landlords. Currently, if a Health Department inspector sees construction dust in the common area of a building, they cease work and order the owner and contractor to clean the area and use safe work practices, such as wet methods to reduce dust, regular cleaning during work, and using plastic barriers to minimize dust dispersion. Dust samples are also taken by the inspector and tested for lead. The new procedure adds another layer – tenants will be notified of these actions by a sign posted in a conspicuous location that alerts the building that the Health Department found dust hazards from renovation work. The announcement will also include a phone number for more information on the inspection results or to report additional complaints.

This is a small victory for the Mahfar Tenants’ Alliance and the 102 Norfolk Street Tenants’ Association,” one outspoken resident tells us.

After major renovation work was done in the common areas at 102 Norfolk, we made numerous 311 complaints to DOHMH about the dust. It was only because one of the tenants ran into the DOHMH inspector that we even knew that lead samples were taken. And then, it was only after making a FOIL request that we were able to see the results.

Mahfar of course denied it and said he never received a violation for it. It went back and forth for a while, but importantly: at no point has anyone ever notified tenants of lead exposure; not the EPA, NYS DOH, DOHMH, the landlord, no one.

Our understanding is that none of the market rate tenants who have moved into the building over the past year ever received notice that there had been lead exposure as part of their new lease or even since.

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