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Syracuse lead ordinance moves closer to vote, inspections could start in October

A screenshot from a presentation given by Katrina Korfmacher, a doctor and professor at the University of Rochester Medical School.

A proposed lead ordinance in the city of Syracuse, expected to be voted on soon, would make the presence of lead paint chipping a code violation for rental properties. Lead poisoning can cause irreversible damage to children. Syracuse common councilors held an online public meeting last week to give presentations on implementing the law, and city residents shared their concerns.

One theme among many of the residents, including Marianna Kaufman, is that if lead is found in one unit of a multi-unit property, it would not automatically trigger inspections in the other units. She called it sad and infuriating. 

“Why wouldn’t we want to inspect?” Kaufman asked. “Figuring out what are the obstacles to that, I think are really important.”

Councilor Joe Driscoll said legally, the presence of lead in one unit does not give them permission to enter into another private property. But he said there are actions the city can take.

“If, for example, one unit gets tested as lead hazardous, we’ll make sure that we reach out to the landlords, the property owners and the tenants to say, one of these three units has come up as a lead hazard,” Driscoll said. “We suspect that the other two are, as well. Asking, requesting we get in there to do a test. Asking the tenants, making the tenants aware, making the landlords aware.”

Inspections can be triggered by complaints. They’re also tied to a three-year renewal of the rental registry and a certificate of occupancy.

The online meeting included a presentation from an expert in Rochester who worked on implementing a similar program in that city, 15 years ago. Driscoll said the most surprising thing they learned was how much compliance Rochester got from landlords.

“Once the new law went into place, landlords learned about the maintenance required to prevent their houses from becoming lead hazards,” Driscoll said.

And the maintenance isn't necessarily much. It could just mean HEPA vacuuming an area and adding a fresh coat of paint. Driscoll said the relationship between the city and landlords is a key foundation to having success.

“We’re holding them accountable, but we are allies,” he said.

Councilors are expected to vote on the ordinance later this month. If it’s approved, it wouldn’t go into effect until October. The coronavirus has delayed getting the inspectors certified.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.