WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced a lawsuit against Starkoda C. Plummer, the owner of Ward 7 apartment building, for endangering the health and safety of District residents by exposing them to toxic lead-based paint. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed suit against the owner of a property located at 3911 R St. SE for failing to remove or contain lead paint found peeling from the window sills and walls in residential units, ignoring repeated attempts by the District to protect residents from this health hazard, and failing to pay previously-ordered penalties. This is the first standalone environmental enforcement action OAG has brought against a landlord for violating the District’s Lead Hazard Act. In this suit, OAG is seeking a court order to force the landlord to stop exposing tenants to toxic lead paint and is also seeking civil penalties and reimbursement of investigative costs.
“This irresponsible landlord ignored District law and endangered families by exposing them to toxic lead for far too long,” said AG Racine. “The Office of the Attorney General will use its enforcement authority to hold property owners accountable if they fail to live up to their obligation to provide safe, lead-free housing to their tenants.”
Starkoda C. Plummer is the owner of a four-unit residential apartment building located at 3911 R St. SE in Ward 7. The building was constructed before the federal government’s 1978 ban on lead-based paint.
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause painful physical symptoms, including organ and brain damage. Lead exposure is especially dangerous to young children and can lead to permanent problems including learning disabilities, developmental delays, and behavioral issues. The most common source of lead exposure today is paint in older homes that have not been well-maintained. When old lead-based paint breaks down, paint chips and lead dust can settle on surfaces. Kids can then become exposed to lead when they pick up paint chips, play on the floor or put their fingers or toys in their mouths. Low-income families living in older homes or in public housing that have not been maintained are especially likely to be exposed to lead paint.
The District’s Lead Hazard Prevention and Elimination Act requires all multi-family properties constructed before 1978 to be maintained free of lead-based paint hazards. Under this law, the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) performs inspections and risk assessments of suspected lead paint hazards. If a lead paint hazard is identified, DOEE determines what steps the property owner must take to eliminate the hazard and can order property owners to take any necessary actions to protect the health and safety of the property’s occupants. If the property owner fails to comply, DOEE may refer the matter to OAG, as it did in this case.
OAG’s lawsuit alleges that since 2017, Plummer has put tenants and public health at risk and violated the District’s Lead Hazard Act. Specifically, OAG alleges that Plummer:
- Failed to remove toxic lead paint from apartments: Since 2017, DOEE received multiple complaints about chipping and peeling paint 3911 R St. SE. DOEE inspectors confirmed through multiple inspections and scientific tests that lead paint and dust were present at the property and advised the owner about how to eliminate the hazards. Plummer ignored her legal responsibilities and numerous administrative orders. As of June 2019, she had not taken action to remove or contain the lead paint in apartments, common areas, and on the exterior of the building.
- Failed to pay fines for environmental violations: DOEE and the District’s Office of Administrative Hearings have fined Plummer for violating the Lead Hazard Act on at least three occasions. Plummer has so far failed to pay fines totaling nearly $10,000 (not including interest).
OAG is seeking a court order to force the property owner to properly eliminate the lead hazard at the property by employing a person trained in lead-safe work practices to repair the deteriorated paint, submit a report by a certified lead risk assessor showing that the necessary repairs have been made, and submit another report showing that conditions remain safe three years after the repairs are made. OAG is also seeking reimbursement for DOEE for its investigative costs and monetary penalties of up to $25,000 for each day the lead hazard has not been fixed since the owner was notified of violations of the law. Plummer was initially notified of violations of the Lead Hazard Act on October 6, 2017.
OAG’s complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-07/DC-v-Plummer-Complaint.pdf
OAG’s motion for preliminary injunction is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-07/DC-v-Plummer-PI-Motion.pdf
Protecting Yourself from Lead Exposure
District residents are encouraged to report suspected violations of environmental law, including suspected lead paint hazards, to DOEE. Information on reporting suspected violations through a smartphone app is available at: https://doee.dc.gov/release/311-tip-app-local-environmental-violations
Residents, property owners, and contractors can find information and resources about lead and the District’s lead laws on DOEE’s website at: https://doee.dc.gov/lead
Tenants can learn more about their rights to lead-free housing at: https://doee.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddoe/publication/attachments/DC%20Tenant%20Rights%20Form%20May%202018.pdf
OAG’s Environmental Work
Over the past year, OAG has devoted new resources to protecting the environment and protecting the health and safety of District residents. OAG is deeply involved in the District’s ongoing cleanup of the Anacostia River and has joined numerous multistate lawsuits to stop the Trump administration from rolling back important environmental protections. The office is also focused on addressing persistent local environmental problems, especially those that affect low-income communities of color. Last year, the office filed suit against Ward 5 businesses that repeatedly spilled toxic oil onto sidewalks and streets.