November 7th, 2022 – Press Release
BUFFALO – New York Attorney General Letitia James today won her $5.1 million lawsuit against against Angel Elliot Dalfin, a Buffalo-area landlord whose flagrant and egregious violations of lead safety laws resulted in more than two dozen reported cases of childhood lead poisoning. Erie County Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto ordered Dalfin to pay $5.1 million in restitution and penalties, which will fund ongoing childhood lead poisoning prevention programs administered by the City of Buffalo and Erie County, as well as efforts to eliminate lead hazards in homes.
Dalfin and his rental housing operation owned and managed more than 150 single- and two-family homes in predominantly low-income communities of color. Seven properties had multiple cases of childhood lead poisoning reported.
“Angel Dalfin’s disregard for the health and wellbeing of his tenants and their families is as shocking as it is depraved. As a result of his reckless negligence, more than two dozen children are suffering the effects of lead poisoning,” said Attorney General James. “While no amount of money can reverse the damage he’s wrought, today’s landmark decision will fund invaluable lead poisoning prevention and abatement efforts throughout Erie County. Let this be a warning to all other landlords who would try to shirk their responsibilities: if you put children in harm’s way, my office will hold you accountable.”
In 2020, Attorney General James filed a lawsuit against Dalfin and the rental housing operations he controlled, alleging that Dalfin persistently violated city, county, state, and federal laws by failing to address lead paint-related hazards in the rental properties he owned. The allegations included repeated housing code violations, such as chipping, peeling, and deteriorating paint and other conditions conducive to lead poisoning, and allowing paint to deteriorate to the point of being a lead hazard instead of taking preventive actions.
In April, Justice Panepinto sided with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), finding Dalfin and his rental housing operation liable for the factual allegations made in the suit, including engaging in 126 instances of deceptive acts or practices, committing repeated fraud and illegality, and creating and contributing to a public nuisance. Dalfin and his affiliates were also permanently banned from renting or managing residential properties in New York state.
Today, in response to a request filed with the court by Attorney General James in July, Justice Panepinto awarded $5,094,018.45 in total penalties and restitution against Mr. Dalfin and his group. The award included:
$630,000 total penalties for violations of state law requiring landlords to provide full and accurate information to tenants about known risk of lead exposure to children and known instances of lead paint and lead paint hazards. Attorney General James’ July filing with the court stated that Dalfin and his affiliates “ignored their obligations and lied to tenants,” about lead risks in their properties.
$3,101,900 in restitution for ongoing violations of the Erie County Sanitary Code involving conditions conducive to lead poisoning, such as chipping, peeling, and deteriorating paint. In her July filing, Attorney General James cited one property, where a child resided that had 16 different lead hazard violations that were left unremedied by Dalfin for over 620 days and another property where seven violations were ignored for almost 880 days.
$1,263,478.45 as disgorgement of a portion of rents received by Dalfin and his affiliates on properties with city or county lead paint-related code violations, as a remedy to what Attorney General James in the July filing called the “wide-ranging persistent and repeated illegality through which [the group] conducted their rental operation in Buffalo.” Attorney General James noted that, between 2013 and 2020, at least 63 of the Dalfin properties were cited for conditions conducive to lead poisoning.
Dalfin has now either sold or abandoned all properties he once owned or managed in Buffalo. To help ensure that any remaining lead hazards in these properties are identified and corrected, OAG has contacted all tenants of the properties to inform them of their rights to lead-safe housing, as well as all new owners to inform them of their lead-related obligations. In addition, the Attorney General is working closely with Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Inc., a non-profit community redevelopment agency, to rehabilitate several former Dalfin houses and provide lead-safe housing to the former tenants in those houses and help improve the neighborhoods Dalfin poisoned for years.
The poisoning of children from lead paint in aging rental housing is an ongoing national public health crisis, but is of particular concern in New York state, especially in Buffalo and the surrounding area. According to a 2018 study, the city of Buffalo suffers from some of the highest rates of childhood lead exposure in the nation, citing “poor housing conditions in old homes with lead paint.” In the Buffalo region, children who live in communities of color are 12 times more likely than children who live in predominately white neighborhoods to be diagnosed with an elevated blood lead level. Elevated blood lead levels are also more prevalent in Buffalo’s low-income neighborhoods than high-income neighborhoods.
Attorney General James thanks Erie County and the City of Buffalo for their close collaboration and partnership on this matter. The OAG will continue to work with local partners statewide to combat childhood lead poisoning.
“I am proud to have been a partner in this suit with Attorney General James and our partners in the county,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. “Buffalo’s residents deserve to live in homes that are safe, secure and stable. Property owners and managers that knowingly rent substandard units to low-income residents ought to be punished to the full extent of the law. Endangering a child in the place they are supposed to feel most secure is the worst form of exploitation.”
“Lead exposure continues to pose a serious threat in old housing stock across Buffalo, particularly in lower income communities of color. People are just trying to go to work, provide for their families, and keep their kids safe; the last thing they need to worry about is if they and their children might be at risk in their own homes,” said State Senator Tim Kennedy. “Any landlord or group that fails to address properties that contain these dangerous levels of lead need to be held accountable, and I commend the Attorney General for taking action.”
“Lead poisoning is an insidious disease that can rob a child of his or her future. Deadbeat landlords who prey on the most vulnerable are a scourge on our community and must be held accountable for their inactions,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “I thank Attorney General James for her strong and consistent leadership on this critical issue.”
“I have seen the impact of lead poisoning on members of my own family, and one of my proudest moments as a legislator was the creation of a pilot program to expand educational intervention services for children who suffer from lead poisoning,” said Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin. “I commend Attorney General Letitia James for taking action against landlords who have so flagrantly ignored the laws we have put in place to protect our children. She is a courageous advocate for the children and families of Western New York.”
“Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Inc. is honored to work alongside Attorney General James and her office to right this terrible wrong,” said Stephanie Simeon, Executive Director, Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Inc. “While this will not happen overnight, we are definitely going in the right direction to ensuring these tenants have access to safe, clean, and affordable housing.”
“Recognizing that approximately 80 percent of Buffalo’s children with elevated blood lead levels live in rental singles and doubles, the Buffalo and Erie County Lead Safe Task Force has been linking arms with partners in the city, county, and New York state to eradicate lead poisoning in many ways,” said Cara Matteliano, Senior Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and Convener, Buffalo & Erie County Lead Safe Task Force. “We are grateful for Attorney General Letitia James’ commitment to furthering this collaborative mission by holding landlords accountable for their properties’ violations to ensure that every child has the opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
This matter was handled by the Environmental Protection Bureau and is led by Assistant Attorney General Patrick Omilian and Special Counsel Stephen Nagle with support from Assistant Attorneys General Brendan McGrath and Ashley Gregor, Environmental Scientist Jennifer Nalbone, and Program Assistant Isabel Murphy under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. Additional assistance was provided by Investigators Shawn McCormick and Jennifer Terranova of the Investigations Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Oliver Pu-Folkes. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.