BENNINGTON — A local housing corporation has been fined by the state for submitting false lead paint reports.
The Vermont Office of the Attorney General said Tuesday it fined Shires Housing $20,000, but reduced the fine to $1,000 owing to the fact that Shires is a nonprofit with a limited ability to pay such a penalty.
A Rutland landlord was also fined $20,000 for false lead paint documents, but had it reduced to $1,000 owing to an inability to pay.
Per Vermont law, all paint in houses built before 1978 are assumed to be lead-based unless a certified inspector says otherwise. When it comes to rental housing, landlords are required to perform "essential maintenance practices" (EMP). Among these practices are annually inspecting buildings for visibly deteriorating paint and restoring said surfaces within 30 days of discovering them.
Owners of rental properties are also required to file affidavits with the Vermont Department of Health on an annual basis saying they've followed the required EMPs.
The maximum fine for violating the lead law is $10,000 per day of violation. Renting out units not in compliance with the lead regulations is a separate violation with the same penalty, according to the settlement document posted to the Vermont Office of the Attorney General's website on Tuesday.
According to the AG's office, in August 2015 Shires filed an "EMP Rental Property Compliance Statement" for five rental properties, those being 233 School St., 119-121 Pleasant St., 50 Carrigan Lane, 100 Carrigan Lane, and 316 Safford St. The properties combined total 23 units.
The EMP statements claimed the exteriors of the buildings had been inspected and there was no deteriorating paint exceeding a square foot. The statements were signed by an employee of Shires Housing.
In October, staff from the Vermont Department of Health inspected the buildings and saw areas of lead paint larger than a square foot.
Assistant Attorney General Justin Kolber said Tuesday that health department officials were in Bennington on an unrelated matter and noticed the paint problem, which they followed up on. He said that as of January 2016, none of the units in question were being rented. He did not know if they were being rented when the paint issue was discovered.
A call to Shires Housing Executive Director Stephanie Lane was not returned late Tuesday afternoon.
Kolber said the lead law penalties apply only to landlords, not their employees.
According to the settlement document, Shires admitted that its employee submitted false information on the EMP document and did so knowingly of his own accord. His actions, "(represent) an isolated incident not in keeping with the standards of Shires Housing."
The agreement reached between Shires and the AG's office holds that Shires will comply with the lead law, and by May 31 hire an EMP-certified independent contractor to inspect the interior and exterior of its properties. Following this, it will provide documentation that the inspections have occurred with the Department of Health, the AG's office, Shire's insurance carrier, and to an adult living in each rental unit.
If Shires wishes to rent any of the units out, it must provided documentation showing the unit has been inspected and is in compliance with the lead law. It also must provide an update on when the rest of the property is expected to be brought into compliance.
— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115