A coalition of state and local leaders are set to file a lawsuit against Syracuse landlord Todd Hobbs for 413 property code violations related to lead poisoning at 19 of his properties since 2016. At least 11 children, leaders say, were poisoned by lead at Hobbs’ properties.
The legal filing, announced by New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office Monday afternoon, seeks to hold Hobbs accountable, requesting him to pay thousands in fines and restitution to affected families. Hobbs would also have to relinquish profits obtained from rent payments and be required to address code violations and submit his properties to constant inspections for lead hazards if the suit is successful. Hobbs would have to pay $5,000 for each false or misleading lead disclosure he provided – or non-existent lead disclosure he failed to provide – to tenants over the years.
“No parent should have to question whether their children are safe living in their own homes,” James said in a press statement. “By failing to properly address lead paint hazards, Hobbs betrayed his tenants’ trust and put families’ health and well-being in danger. In New York and nationwide, children of color and their families are exposed to lead paint at disproportionate and alarming rates.”
The attorney general’s office estimates that Hobbs has managed at least 62 rental properties with about 91 units, mostly rented to low-income county residents. Despite repeated efforts to bring the landlord to compliance, James said, Hobbs continues to provide unsafe living conditions at his properties. He also routinely failed to disclose the presence of lead in the house to prospective renters, the AG claims.
Poor living conditions are a leading cause of lead poisoning in the state and in Syracuse, particularly stemming from chipping lead paint, dust, and water and soil contamination. Hobbs and his companies, TLH Holdings LLC and TLH Properties LLC, have 50 open property code violations across three properties, Syracuse Department of Code Enforcement data shows. The content of the citations indicates concerning levels of decay across the properties, including structural issues, lead hazards, ill-fitting windows and doors, problems with heating and plumbing, problems with bug infestations and lack of proper permitting for vacant properties.
Hobbs’ repeated neglect, officials say, has only helped exacerbate an already alarming public health crisis. In Syracuse, about one in 10 children tested for lead in 2022 showed elevated levels of the toxic element in their blood.
Much like other upstate metropolitan areas, Syracuse has an aging housing stock, making most properties in the city likely to have at some point posed a lead poisoning hazard to renters. The state and federal governments banned the use of lead paint in the ’70s, and a report from Home Headquarters shows about 91% of the city’s housing was built prior to 1980. A review of property records conducted by James’ office estimates all of Hobbs’ rental properties were built prior to 1960.
Public health advocates say they worry the effects of lead on children are long-lasting and highly detrimental to their development. The World Health Organization deems lead a neurotoxin in children, noting that the chemical element attacks the brain and the central nervous system at high levels of exposure. This can lead to convulsions and even death, with other long-term effects such as intellectual disabilities and behavioral disorders.
“My child was poisoned by lead in the apartment we rented from Hobbs,” a tenant said in a statement provided by the attorney general’s office. “He is responsible for the lead, and he was very unprofessional and disrespectful to my repeated attempts to have it fixed. I thank the Attorney General for suing to stop him from putting his tenant families in danger.”
Darlene Medley, a founder of Families for Lead Freedom Now, a local organization fighting to remediate lead hazards in Onondaga County, said she was proud to see leaders take action against non-compliant landlords. Her children Devon and Rashad were poisoned by lead due to chipping paint at her apartment on the West Side.
“It’s about damn time landlords face consequences for the poisoning of our children. Our babies’ health should be protected in their homes, wherever they live,” she said. “The children are our community’s future, and this action really stands out to give our children a fair chance at the start of life. As a mother of lead-affected children and an advocate for lead freedom, it feels like we are finally seeing years of advocacy work coming to fruition.”
Central Current reached out to a phone number appearing to belong to Hobbs but received no response by the time of publication.