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LOS ANGELES-Three Los Angeles property management firms have agreed to pay $100,000 in civil penalties and contribute $60,000 to children’s health programs in a settlement with state and federal officials regarding allegations that building owners failed to notify tenants about lead paint hazards in their buildings.

The US Department of HUD, Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency, along with the state of California, reached the settlement with Los Angeles-based firms Westside Rehab Corp., Alpha Property Management Inc., and SK Management Co. The government alleges the companies failed to inform their tenants of potential lead hazards in more than 4,600 apartments in Los Angeles and around the country. It says the companies have agreed to test for lead-based paint in their properties and clean up any lead hazards.

Officials at Westside Rehab and Alpha Property Management could not be reached, but SK Management’s attorney, Ken Ehrlich of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro in Los Angeles, tells GlobeSt.com that the government regulators’ announcement regarding the settlement contained a number of inaccuracies.

Ehrlich says the government agencies erred in saying that SK did not notify its tenants of the lead paint hazard. He says SK did, in fact, notify its tenants of the potential lead hazards in its properties and he says the point of dispute is not whether SK notified the tenants but when it notified them.

According to Ehrlich, SK Management learned of the federal allegations more than two years ago and “made a business decision to abate whatever lead was present in all of the affected units.” He says SK has spent far more on abating lead paint in its properties than it is being assessed in penalties and contributions under the settlement. His says his client has spent more than $100,000 on surveys and paint removal to ensure that no lead paint remains in any of the 1,380 SK-owned units covered under the settlement, which are in 15 properties throughout the Los Angeles area.

Under the law, Ehrlich says, SK was not required to abate the lead–it was only required to notify tenants of the potential lead paint hazard. To illustrate that SK has gone beyond the letter of the law and the settlement, Ehrlich cited a situation at an SK complex in which testing found the interior was free of lead paint, but there was some present on exterior guard railings. SK “abated all of the lead on the guard railings to make it a non-issue,” he says.

“SK disputes the facts alleged against it by the agencies, but the company wanted to come to a resolution of this whole issue and put it behind it,” Ehrlich says. The SK attorney tells GlobeSt.com that the firm’s portion of the settlement totals $40,000. Of that, $10,500 lies in civil penalties to the federal agencies, $4,500 to the state, and a $25,000 contribution to Cedars Sinai Medical Center to be used solely for the assessment, management and prevention of lead-based paint health hazards.

The government agencies did not specify how much of the civil penalties would be paid by Westside Rehab and how much by Alpha Property Management. Westside and Alpha, owners and property managers, will donate $35,000 to the Environmental Research Center at Martin Luther King, Jr./Charles R. Drew Medical Center, according to the government announcement.

Besides the SK units, all of which are in the Los Angeles area, the settlement applies to 1,843 properties belonging to Westside and Alpha in Los Angeles and another 1,446 in Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland and Washington, DC.

Congress outlawed the manufacture, sale and use of lead-based paint in 1978, but lead-based paint remains in older homes and apartment buildings throughout the country. The law requires building owners to notify tenants of lead paint hazards before they sign leases, and again whenever they renew.

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