Attorney General James Sues Syracuse Landlord For Exposing Children to Lead Hazards

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on October 1, 2021, a lawsuit against landlord John Kiggins and his company, Endzone Properties, Inc., for repeatedly violating lead paint laws and failing to address lead paint hazards, which resulted in the lead poisoning of 18 children living in Endzone properties in Syracuse. Attorney General James’ investigation found that over a period of more than 6 years, at least 18 children were poisoned by lead paint while residing in 17 of Endzone’s estimated 89 properties. During this same period, at least 32 Endzone properties were flagged by the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County to have had conditions conducive to lead poisoning. Kiggins and Endzone also failed to disclose their knowledge of lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards at these properties to tenants and buyers. The lawsuit marks the third action by Attorney General James in recent weeks to address childhood exposure to lead paint in low-income and communities of color throughout New York state.

“Exposure to lead paint is undoubtedly dangerous and disproportionately impacts Black and brown children,” said Attorney General James. “This company took advantage of low-income families of color, failed to provide them with the protections required by law, and knowingly put children in harm’s way. No family should have to fear for their health while living in their own homes, and my office will continue to hold individuals and companies responsible for putting our communities at risk.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Onondaga County, alleges that from January 1, 2015 to July 31, 2021 at least 32 Endzone properties were cited by inspectors from the Onondaga County Health Department and the City of Syracuse Division of Code Enforcement for chipping, peeling, deteriorating paint, and other conditions conducive to lead poisoning, which are prohibited by county and city laws. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) discovered that during this time, at least 18 children were poisoned by lead while residing at one of the Endzone properties. All of the children poisoned were children of color.

The OAG began its investigation into Endzone in late 2020, and found that from 2015 on, Endzone failed to follow laws requiring the company to maintain its properties in a lead-safe condition, and instead, allowed lead paint to deteriorate. Endzone frequently allowed paint on its properties to deteriorate to the point of being a lead hazard instead of preventing deterioration of paint, as required by local and state building codes. Kiggins and Endzone also engaged in repeated illegal and fraudulent acts by either not providing federally required lead disclosures or providing materially false and deceptive lead disclosures to tenants and purchasers of Endzone properties.

In the lawsuit, Attorney General James seeks to enjoin the illegal conduct and dangerous housing practices of Kiggins and Endzone, and compel them to provide lead-safe housing and complete truthful lead disclosures to tenants of properties they own or manage, and to any purchasers of Endzone properties. The lawsuit also asks the court to order disgorgement of all profits that Kiggins and Endzone have realized from their repeated and persistent violations of the law and their fraud in carrying out their property management business, and order them to pay fines and penalties in an amount to be determined by the court.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause serious and irreversible adverse health effects. Children who have been exposed to even very low levels of lead are at risk for neurological and physical problems during critical stages of early development. In fact, no safe lead level in children has been identified. Children under the age of 6 are more likely to be exposed to lead than any other age group, as their normal behaviors could result in them chewing lead paint chips; breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors, window sills, and hands; and lead can be found in soil, toys, and other consumer products. A recent study has shown that more than half of the 1.1 million children younger than 6 years old who underwent lead testing had detectable levels of lead in their blood.

Lead paint in residential housing has been a pervasive problem for decades, particularly in New York. Beginning in the 20th century, paint with dangerously high levels of lead was used on both exterior and interior surfaces of housing in the United States. Lead paint has been found in approximately 43 percent of all of New York dwellings. Although New York banned the use of lead paint in 1970, with the federal government following suit in 1978, buildings constructed prior to 1978 often still have lead paint. Over 90 percent of Syracuse’s housing stock was constructed prior to 1978. The vast majority of these dwellings were constructed before New York banned lead paint in 1970.

Lead poisoning in Onondaga County occurs predominantly within Syracuse, and disproportionately harms low-income communities and communities of color. Since 2012, 87 percent of all lead poisoned children in Onondaga County were from Syracuse. Data also shows that Black children are twice as likely as white children to have elevated blood lead levels — 22.7 percent of Black children in Onondaga County tested for lead had dangerous levels of lead in their blood, while 10.8 percent of white children tested had dangerous blood lead levels. Additionally, children from households living at or below the federal poverty line are at a greater risk of exposure to lead than children from households above the federal poverty line.

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