Realtor fined for hiding lead paint information

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By Eric Freedman

A western New York real estate agent has been fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $53,326 in restitution for failing to notify prospective purchasers that a house in Lockport contained lead-based paint.

The new owners bought the house in April 2014. In September 2015, their child was diagnosed with lead poisoning, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango, who prosecuted the case.

It wasn’t the first such problem in the house. In 2009, a previous owner “learned that his child had lead poisoning,” the criminal charge against Realtor Maureen Walck said.

Walck knew from the seller that “lead-based paint hazards were present in the house,” which had been built in about 1900, and she had seen the lead-based paint inspection reports, the charge said.

She did provide an earlier would-be buyer with that information. But after their inspection and reviewing the records, that buyer cancelled the sales contract.

She then withheld that information from the ultimate purchaser. Instead, the sales contract falsely stated that the seller was unaware of any lead-based paint hazards and had no records about such hazards, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo said.

“Generally, lead affects children more than it does adults. Children tend to show signs of severe lead toxicity at lower levels than adults,” according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Those effects include neurological damage and developmental disabilities.

In addition, the institute said, “The Department of Health and Human Service, Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have determined that lead is probably cancer-causing in humans.”

Federal law requires sellers of pre-1978 homes “to disclose known lead-based paint hazards or, in the alternative, to certify they have no knowledge of such hazards,” according to the criminal charge.

Walck pleaded guilty to failing to provide the mandatory lead paint hazard warning notice. In the plea agreement, she admitted “knowingly and willfully” failing to ensure that the seller complied with the law.

She faced a maximum possible sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

She is still listed as a member of the New York State Association of Realtors on the organization’s website.

The charges followed a criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA was involved because the new owners used a veterans’ loan to buy the house, Mango said.

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