Attorney General Neronha, legislative partners announce package of bills to end lead poisoning in Rhode Island
Bills to be heard tonight before House Committee on Judiciary
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, alongside legislative partners, today announced a package of bills aimed at drastically reducing childhood lead poisoning in Rhode Island. The three proposed bills mark a crucial step in eradicating childhood lead poisoning by ensuring compliance with existing laws.
- HB 6239/SB 804 – Establishes a statewide rental registry where landlords who own non-exempt buildings that were built before 1978 would be required to file lead conformance certificates already required by law. House sponsor Deputy Whip Mia Ackerman; Senate sponsor Chairwoman Dawn Euer.
- HB 6238/SB 729 – Allows tenants to pay their rent into an escrow account when there are unaddressed lead hazards in their homes. These bills ensure that tenants remain current on their rent obligations, and that landlords won’t be able to access the funds until they address the lead hazards. House sponsor Representative David Morales; Senate sponsor Senator Tiara Mack.
- HB 6201/SB 739 – Allows families affected by childhood lead poisoning to recover up to three times their actual damages (known as treble damages), which would create another mechanism to encourage compliance with existing law. House sponsor Representative Matthew S. Dawson; Senate sponsor Senator Valerie J. Lawson.
“Lead poisoning is absolutely preventable and our Office will take any necessary action to strengthen the enforcement of our laws, and reduce lead exposure within our communities,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Taken collectively, these bills will over time increase the number of safe and affordable housing units and establish stiffer penalties for those who refuse to play by the rules. This is a solvable crisis, but only if we address this problem directly and forcefully. I know Rhode Island can do better by our residents, especially our children, and I look forward to advocating for stronger legal tools and more resources for lead-poisoning prevention.”
“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our children,” said House Deputy Majority Leader Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln). “This bill will better enable us to ensure they are living in a lead-free environment.”
“Anyone selling a product has a responsibility to ensure that product is safe and will not harm the health of children,” said Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), who serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary. “Landlords are no different. This bill will help ensure renters that their home is compliant with lead safety laws.”
“Regardless of one's socioeconomic status, all renters across our state deserve to live in a safe home that is free of lead hazards,” said Rep. David Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence). “Yet we continue to see headline after headline about young children in our communities who have been exposed and poisoned by lead found in their home due to the negligence of the landlord. 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.”
“Everyone deserves safe, quality housing and that includes having the ability to drink lead-free water. If property owners choose not to remedy these dangerous lead poisoning situations, they should not have access to a renter’s money until the lead problem is resolved. This is a reasonable solution to a very serious issue that has been allowed to happen in Providence and Rhode Island for too long,” said Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence).
“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. This bill will allow renters to seek the restitution they deserve if they are exposed to the dangers of lead by neglectful property owners,” said Rep. Matthew S. Dawson (D-Dist. 65, East Providence).
“If a company fails to follow proper regulations and someone is poisoned or injured, that company can be held accountable in court,” said Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence). “If an irresponsible landlord poisons a child with lead, they should be held to the same standards.”
“Every family in Rhode Island deserves help to keep their kids safe from lead, whether it is due to old house paint, soil, water, or consumer products,” said Laura Brion, Executive Director of the Childhood Lead Action Project. “And right now, RI's laws are leaving too many families in rental housing without all the help they need. This legislation strengthens protections for some of the most at-risk families in the state, moving us closer to a place where safe, affordable housing is a right and not a privilege.”
“Every year, hundreds of Rhode Island children are lead poisoned, an issue that impacts every community in Rhode Island,” said Jennifer Wood, Executive Director for the R.I. Center for Justice. “The effects of lead poisoning are long lasting, and devastating. Increased blood lead levels are linked to developmental delays, aggressive behavior, and school suspensions, all while worsening inequities in our education, health care and criminal justice systems. By enacting these three bills, Rhode Island will increase the stock of safe, sanitary, and affordable housing while ameliorating the disastrous moral, economic, and social impacts of childhood lead poisoning.”
Lead Enforcement Action by Attorney General Neronha
Lead enforcement has been a priority for Attorney General Neronha. Since the fall of 2021, the Attorney General has filed 19 lawsuits and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties from landlords who have failed to fully address serious lead violations on properties where kids were lead poisoned. As a result of actions by the Office, more than 45 housing units have been remediated following the issuance of intent to sue letters, pre-suit negotiations, and lawsuits.
In January 2023, Attorney General Neronha announced lead remediation agreements totaling more than $700,000 in value. In April and May 2022, the Attorney General filed lead enforcement lawsuits against Pawtucket and Woonsocket landlords. In March 2022, the Attorney General filed lead enforcement lawsuits against four Providence landlords following the lead poisoning of children at each of their properties.
The Attorney General has also strengthened working relationships with other state agencies engaged in lead poisoning prevention, including the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Management, and cities and towns. In February 2022, the Attorney General and RIDOH issued Guidance for Local Code Enforcement on Lead Hazard Violations to cities and towns to support local housing code enforcement officers in the vital role they can play in preventing childhood lead poisoning.