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Brattleboro landlord pays fine in lead paint settlement

No admission that compliance claims were false, but penalty and costs will amount to $20,000

BRATTLEBORO—A Brattleboro landlord will pay $20,000 to settle the state’s claims that he filed false documents relating to lead-paint abatement at two High Street rental properties.

The state attorney general’s office had alleged that Robert Immler engaged in “unfair and deceptive acts and practices” by inaccurately asserting that his properties at 118 and 182 High Street were in compliance with the state’s lead law.

A state settlement document shows that Immler didn’t admit that his documents were false and didn’t acknowledge any deceptive practices. But he did agree to pay a $10,000 penalty to the state and to spend at least $10,000 to reduce any lead hazards at the properties in question.

“He’s in the process of completing the requirements under the [settlement],” said Brattleboro attorney Chris Dugan, who represented Immler in the matter.

Lead poisoning is a big public health concern. In children, it can cause learning disabilities, behavioral issues and decreased intelligence, according to the state Department of Health.

In adults, lead exposure is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, anemia, impaired kidney function, thyroid problems and cancer, officials said.

Lead paint is listed as a “major source” of lead poisoning. While lead house paint was banned in 1978, it remains common due to the age of the state’s housing stock: About 66 percent of Vermont homes and 80 percent of the state’s rental units were constructed prior to that year, according to the attorney general.

To help alleviate exposure risks, the Department of Health (www.healthvermont.gov) offers resource guides for tenants and for property owners.

The Vermont attorney general (www.atg.state.vt.us) also maintains a long list of lead enforcement actions.

“Lead paint is an avoidable hazard,” Attorney General Bill Sorrell said in a prepared statement issued last week. “Vermont landlords will be vigorously prosecuted for avoiding their lead paint obligations, or worse, lying about them.”

The Immler settlement was reached, state documents show, in lieu of the attorney general initiating any “action or proceeding” against the landlord.

At issue are “essential maintenance practices” required annually at pre-1978 rental properties. Those practices include indoor and outdoor property inspection; repairing areas where lead paint has deteriorated; removing paint chips; installing inserts in window wells; and undertaking a “specialized cleaning” in common areas.

The High Street rentals, which together house six units, are subject to those essential maintenance practices. In January, state documents say, Immler filed paperwork showing that he had performed the required lead-paint maintenance activities.

One key element of those documents is a claim that the landlord didn’t identify any areas of deteriorated paint larger than 1 square foot. But officials say subsequent Department of Health inspections documented deteriorated paint that exceeded that parameter.

To settle the matter, the state’s deal with Immler includes several requirements beyond the $20,000 in penalties and costs:

• By Sept. 15, Immler must hire a contractor to perform all essential maintenance practice work on the interior and common areas at 118 High St. By Sept. 30, he must hire a contractor to perform lead paint-related work on the exterior of both properties.

• When that work is done, Immler must file a compliance statements with the state Department of Health, the attorney general and his insurance carrier. He also must give a copy to each adult in the rentals.

• If any of the rental units become vacant before Immler has shown compliance with essential maintenance practices, he must file advance notice with the attorney general before renting the property to a new tenant.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #374 (Wednesday, September 14, 2016). This story appeared on page A2.

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