Attorney General’s proposed lead poisoning prevention bills passed by General Assembly

Bills represent most significant healthy housing legislation in at least 20 years

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha today announced that the package of lead poisoning prevention and housing bills that were introduced at the request of the Attorney General have successfully passed through both chambers of the House and Senate. The bills, which ensure landlords comply with lead-safety laws, are sponsored by Chairwoman Dawn Euer and Deputy Majority Whip Mia Ackerman, Sen. Tiara Mack and Rep. David Morales, and Sen. Valarie Lawson and Rep. Matthew Dawson.

“For more than 20 years, Rhode Island has had strong lead poisoning prevention laws on the books and with the passage of these bills today, we will finally have the tools we need to enforce compliance with these laws,” said Attorney General Neronha. “These bills contain perhaps the most significant tenant protections that Rhode Island has seen in a generation, and they certainly represent the most significant healthy housing legislation in at least two decades, since the passage of the Lead Hazard Mitigation Act of 2002. I want to express my deepest gratitude to our legislative sponsors and the General Assembly for supporting these bills, and perhaps most importantly to the stakeholders, advocates, partners, and supporters, without whom this package would never have been possible. Together, we are making public health and safe housing a priority.”

The first bill, sponsored by Chairwoman Dawn Euer and Deputy Majority Whip Mia Ackerman (2023-S 0804aa, 2023-H 6239A), will establish a statewide rental registry where landlords must register identifying information with the Department of Health, which will support the state’s public health, housing policy, and consumer protection goals. Landlords who own non-exempt buildings that were built before 1978 would be required to file lead conformance certificates which are already required by law. 

A second bill that passed as part of the package (2023-S 0729aa, 2023-H 6238A), is sponsored by Senator Tiara Mack and Representative David Morales. It allows tenants to pay their rent into an escrow account when there are unaddressed lead hazards in their homes. The legislation will ensure that tenants remain current on their rent obligations, and that landlords will not be able to access the funds until they address the lead hazards.

The third bill (2023-S 0739, 2023-H 6201), sponsored by Senator Val Lawson and Representative Matthew Dawson, will allow families affected by childhood lead poisoning to recover up to three times their actual damages (known as treble damages) if their landlord is found to have violated lead safety laws.

Lead poisoning can severely affect mental and physical development, especially for children under six years old. According to Department of Health data, 19% of Providence children are lead poisoned by the time they reach elementary school. That number is around 15% in East Providence, 14% in Newport and 5% in Cumberland.

Lead enforcement has been a priority for Attorney General Neronha. The passage of these bills come just one week after Attorney General Neronha filed a complaint in Providence County Superior Court against a large Rhode Island landlord, Pioneer Investments LLC, and the company’s president, Anurag Sureka, alleging Pioneer’s failure to comply with lead-safety laws, among other infractions. The suit also alleges that five children living at Pioneer properties suffered lead poisoning and six others had elevated lead levels in their blood. Pioneer owns and operates over 175 rental properties around the state.

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 65 housing units have been remediated following the issuance of intent to sue letters, pre-suit negotiations, and lawsuits.

Among these actions, 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 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.