New York City’s Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure



According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, lead paint, and the related dust, is the primary source of lead exposure for New York City children. Between November 2013 and January 2016, New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which enforces the city’s housing code, issued more than 10,000 violations for dangerous lead paint conditions in units with children under 6-years-old.lead

Lead poisoning disproportionately affects lower-income individuals in New York City who live in older, poorly maintained housing. Half of the total violations were found in just 10 percent of the city’s ZIP codes in primarily low-income neighborhoods in northern Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. And, more than three-quarters of all violations for lead paint hazards in units with children under age six were found in areas where the poverty rate exceeds the city’s average.

Rebuttable Presumption and Billing Noncompliant Landlords for Lead Hazard Control

In 2004, New York City introduced Local Law 1 amending its Administrative Code and replacing Local Law 38 of 1999 (additional information here). Local Law 1 requires building owners to identify and repair any unsafe lead paint conditions in units where young children live. The law applies to all buildings with three or more units built before 1960 (New York City prohibited the use of lead in residential paint in 1960 while the federal government did so in 1978). Buildings built between 1960 and 1978 are also subject to Local Law 1 if the owner knows that lead paint is present. Under the law, landlords must determine annually which units are home to children under age six and inspect them at least once a year for peeling paint.

The building owners must address whatever lead hazards they find promptly and safely. When fixing hazards and conducting general repair work that may disturb lead paint, they must use lead-safe work practices and trained workers. They are also responsible for repairing lead paint hazards in any apartment before turning it over to a new tenant. The law mandates that owners maintain records of all notices, inspections, lead paint hazard repairs, and other matters related to the law.

Local Law 1 requires the HPD to inspect deteriorated lead paint whenever they receive a complaint in any apartment occupied by young children. HPD may issue positive lead-based paint violations (if it tests the paint during the inspection) or presumed lead-based paint violations (if it is unable to test the paint during the inspection because the proper equipment is not available).

Under the law, once HPD issues a lead paint violation, the building owner has 21 days to repair the hazard or, if the presumed violation was issued, to contest the violation. If the owner either fails to meet the deadline for the repairs or is not given an extension (called a postponement), the city must try to perform, or contract for, the repairs at the owner’s expense. Repairs include remediation of peeling paint, the use of an EPA certified firm, and appropriate clearance testing.

Local Law 1 also mandates the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to investigate the potential sources of lead exposure. This includes, but is not limited to, paint inspections in a dwelling in response to a report of a person under 18 years of age with an elevated blood lead level of 15 mcg/dL or greater. The Health Department may issue a lead-based paint violation (notifying HPD), and, under the law, the building owner has to do the specified repairs. If the owner fails to complete the work, the dwelling is referred to the city’s emergency repair program as described above.

Functionally, the city’s Department of Finance bills the property for the cost of the emergency repair, related fees, and/or the cost of any repair attempts. It is likely to be far more expensive for the city to arrange repairs than if the owner had taken care of them in the first place. The added cost acts as an incentive for the owner to conduct the work before a violation is issued or, when a violation is issued, to complete it in a timely manner. This is likely the only regulation in the country in which the local government conducts lead remediation and bills the landlord if the landlord fails to do what is required.

Finally, if the owner fails to pay, the city files an interest-bearing tax lien against the property.


Data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows the number of children with a blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or greater has dropped over 80 percent since Local Law 1 was adopted, although in 2014, 6,550 New York City children younger than 6 still had blood lead levels at or above 5 mcg/dL.


In August, 2017, the Health Impact Project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Pew Charitable Trusts released: Ten Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure. The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), Urban Institute, Altarum Institute, Child Trends and many researchers and partners contributed to the report. TFAH and NCHH worked with Pew, RWJF and local advocates and officials to put together the above case study about lead poisoning and prevention initiatives.

The case study does not attempt to capture everything a location is doing on lead, but aims to highlight some of the important work.

Access a story on New York State’s efforts here.

Access a story on Rochester’s efforts here.