‘I’ll get the lead out,’ ‘Heavy Metal’ Toledano tells pols, Health Dept.

Tenants from three Toledano-owned East Village buildings, some wearing hazmat suits and dust masks, protested outside their landlord’s Union Square-area offices last month, urging him to use legally required lead-abatement procedures. Photo by Yannic Rack

Tenants from three Toledano-owned East Village buildings, some wearing hazmat suits and dust masks, protested outside their landlord’s Union Square-area offices last month, urging him to use legally required lead-abatement procedures. Photo by Yannic Rack

BY YANNIC RACK | Embattled East Village landlord Raphael Toledano claims he is finally cleaning up his act, taking steps to limit lead dust exposure in his buildings after pressure from local elected officials led the city to announce it would inspect 20 of the real estate mogul’s tenements for the dangerous substance.

Meanwhile, tenants in one of his buildings recently definitely cleaned up — namely, on a harassment lawsuit filed against the young mogul, reportedly winning a $1 million settlement. A representative for the tenants said she was not at liberty to provide details.

As for the lead issue, the toxic metal was found to proliferate in three of Toledano’s buildings last month, sparking local politicians to call on the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which said last week that it has started to inspect all of the landlord’s buildings that currently have open permits for construction work.

“I’ve heard from scores of constituents about the harassment they’ve endured in Toledano buildings. And now we’ve learned their health is at risk, too, because of dangerously high levels of lead dust,” said state Senator Brad Hoylman, one of the officials who called on the city to monitor the buildings.

“The situation is outrageous and unacceptable,” Hoylman said. “Mr. Toledano needs to remedy this immediately.”

Last month, city inspectors tested dust samples from three buildings owned by Toledano that had recently seen renovation or demolition work done on individual units.

They found that dust from one of them, 233 E. Fifth St., contained 16 times the safe amount of lead, according to federal guidelines by the Environmental Protection Agency. Two other tenements, at 235 E. Fifth St. and 514 E. 12th St., also showed elevated levels of the toxic metal.

Now, reps for Brookhill Properties, Toledano’s real estate investment firm, say the company has been taking a proactive step by hiring an environmental consulting firm, ALC Environmental, that will train Brookhill’s work crews and provide on-site monitoring of them during any construction work going forward.

“They will oversee the environmental compliance oversight during ongoing construction at all Brookhill Properties sites, to be certain tenants are properly protected, and to advise us to any environmental compliance issues,” a company spokesperson said. “Should we be notified of a potential environmental compliance issue, we will have it attended to and corrected immediately.”

But the residents — though heartened by the show of support from their local elected officials and the city — fear the landlord’s steps are only a temporary plan to ward off the Health Department inspectors, and that the lead pollution will just start up again once their results come back negative.

“We’re very happy and deeply grateful — especially to Senator Hoylman’s office. They’ve been behind us every step of the way,” said Nina D’Alessandro, who started the Toledano Tenants Coalition, a group of concerned residents fighting back against the landlord.

“But our fear is that Toledano will just clean up before the city comes in, and then get right back to business as usual when the Health Department is gone again,” she said.

The residents say their health has already suffered, and they worry that the dust will especially affect children in their buildings.

According to the city, dust from lead paint — which was banned here in 1960, but is still found in older buildings — is the most common cause of childhood lead poisoning, which can adversely affect a child’s health, learning and behavior.

“I have a sore throat and I’ve had migraines for two months,” Holly Slayton, a 514 E. 12th St. resident, told The Villager last month. “My daughter just had an upper-respiratory infection. I can’t even be in my apartment half the time.”

In their May 5 letter to the Health Department, the officials — who also included Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymembers Deborah Glick, Richard Gottfried and Brian Kavanagh, and Councilmembers Corey Johnson and Rosie Mendez — urged the agency to conduct thorough testing at all of Toledano’s buildings that currently have construction permits.

“In the past month, tenants living in buildings acquired by Brookhill Properties, owned by Raphael Toledano, have reported high concentrations of toxic lead in dust and debris arising from negligent and dangerous construction work,” the electeds wrote.

“We are extremely troubled by reports that similarly reckless construction is currently taking place or slated to begin in several other buildings owned by Mr. Toledano, putting our constituents further at risk.”

The buildings that are being tested — in addition to the three already known to be affected — are 97 Second Ave., 27 St. Mark’s Place, 58 St. Mark’s Place, 223 E. Fifth St., 229 E. Fifth St., 228 E. Sixth St., 66 E. Seventh St., 95 E. Seventh St., 334 E. Ninth St., 221 E. 10th St., 253 E. 10th St., 329 E. 12th St., 510 E. 12th St., 327 E. 12th St., 325 E. 12th St., 444 E. 13th St. and 125 W. 16th St.

“The Health Department takes reports of unsafe work practices very seriously, and we are working closely with Senator Hoylman to evaluate construction practices at properties owned by this landlord,” Deborah Nagin, director of the Health Department’s Healthy Homes Program, said in a statement.

After the announcement, one tenant at 233 E. Fifth St., which tested positive for unsafe lead amounts last month, said that the residents wouldn’t mind the construction if the work crews at least followed the city’s standards — including sealing work areas, properly disposing of construction debris and cleaning up after themselves.

Rules for construction work in buildings with lead paint are included in both New York City’s Local Law 1 and the E.P.A.’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Program Rule Compliance Guide.

“At the very least, we expect they follow that — wrapping things in plastic, moving furniture, mopping afterwards — it’s not rocket science,” said the tenant, who asked to remain anonymous. “If they wanted to get going, they could simply use the regulations as a checklist.”

In a separate letter to Toledano himself, the politicians also blasted the landlord for allegedly engaging in other forms of tenant harassment at his buildings.

“Numerous constituents,” they wrote, “have contacted our offices alleging that they have been baselessly denied lease renewals, served frivolous notices to vacate, intimidated by your agents, or even threatened with disruptive construction and uninhabitable living conditions. Let us be clear: These actions are both unacceptable and unlawful.”

The 25-year-old Toledano added more than a dozen East Village buildings to his real estate portfolio last year. However, he is currently the subject of a state investigation into tenant harassment. In addition, residents at 444 E. 13th St. have taken him to court over alleged attempts to drive them out of their rent-stabilized homes through illegal construction and persistent threats and buyout offers.

The Real Deal, citing anonymous sources, reported this week that the tenants’ case has just recently been settled for more than $1 million.

Stephanie Rudolph, a lawyer at the Urban Justice Center who represented the tenants, said that she couldn’t reveal any details but that the case “has been resolved in a manner satisfactory to all parties.”

In January, The Villager revealed that the young landlord also has a past assault conviction for beating up a group of teenagers in New Jersey four years ago — news that only ratcheted up the worries of many of his already-concerned tenants.

Even now, with the city stepping in, D’Alessandro said she was still worried about Toledano’s conduct. Her own building has not seen any construction yet, but currently has three apartment vacancies, which could mean construction work is on the horizon.

Yet, she added that the attention from the city was reassuring — especially since another notorious Manhattan landlord, Steven Croman, was just hit with an indictment last week for harassing rent-stabilized tenants into leaving their apartments, among a pile of other criminal and civil charges filed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“We’re very nervous,” D’Alessandro said. “We’d like to actually meet with Toledano and talk things over, but that’s not happening yet.

“But this is a really good sign, and frankly it’s not only the pledge from the Department of Health, but also the fact that Croman was indicted,” she said. “Maybe we really can get some protection — not just a spot check, but ongoing support. That’s what we really need.”

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