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Editorial: Sending a message to landlords on lead paint

An Amherst man was arrested last week for violating an order of the health commissioner. He had not remediated the threat of lead throughout a house he rented out, and in which children were known to live.

Landlords who willfully violate a law that protects children from the learning disabilities and/or behavioral disorders lead paint can render should know that they can be arrested.

This region’s housing stock tends to be old and with lead-laden paint whose dust or peeling chips can damage children’s health and neurological development. Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said: “There is no safe level of lead for children.”

Western New York children suffer the highest rates of lead poisoning in the upstate region.

Elected officials at local, state and national levels – from the City of Buffalo to the county to the state attorney general’s office to Sen. Charles E. Schumer – along with nonprofits such as the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, have put forth funding and resources to address high lead levels.

But perhaps most striking is that, for the first time in Erie County, a person has been arrested for violating the public health law on lead paint.

Maxim Levin, 41, was arrested on charges he continued to rent out an apartment where lead paint exposure was present. He had been warned, but chose to ignore officials.

Levin is no stranger to the law. Last week, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison on tax fraud charges. In two prior cases, he pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in a scheme involving phony automobile crashes and to a felony drug-conspiracy charge.

Last week, he was charged with willfully violating health laws, a misdemeanor. It came after he disregarded a “Do Not Occupy” order in allegedly continuing to allow tenants to live at a home on Fargo Avenue. Two children in the house were found with elevated blood lead levels.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn and Burstein held a news conference about the arrest to send a message about the zero-tolerance policy on lead paint. It was the exact right message.

Landlords who willfully violate the law in order to make a buck at the expense of children’s lives should be on notice.

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