Community Organizations and Residents Sue City of Buffalo for Failure to Provide Safe and Habitable Housing


Buffalo, N.Y. – Four community organizations and four city residents filed a lawsuit to compel the City of Buffalo to fully implement the Proactive Rental Inspections (PRI) Law intended to protect residents in rental housing from lead paint and other health and safety hazards. 

The Buffalo Common Council unanimously adopted the PRI Law in 2020, requiring the inspection of 36,000 rental units in the City of Buffalo. The stated purpose of the law is to achieve the complete remediation of lead-based paint hazards, to correct and prevent unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions, and to restrict and revoke rental privileges for property owners who fail to maintain safe and healthy housing.  

The lawsuit was filed on July 10, 2024 on behalf of four community organizations (Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH Buffalo, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, and the Center for Elder Law and Justice), along with four city residents (Dorothy Oatmeyer, Victoria Ring, Krystal Cruz and Denita Adams) by the law firm Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford LLC, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, and the WNY Law Center.

As sworn affidavits demonstrate, families in Buffalo are regularly living in housing that is not fit for human habitation. In this lawsuit, tenants describe living with leaking roofs, collapsing ceilings, mold, broken windows, rotting floors, and exterior doors that do not lock. Their children and grandchildren have lead poisoning, asthma, persistent headaches and nosebleeds, and more. Their families suffer, as these conditions severely impact their mental health.

The four city residents joining the lawsuit all live in apartments subject to the PRI law. They would not be living in these harmful conditions if the law was implemented. 

Lead poisoning and poor housing conditions have a long history in Buffalo:

The lawsuit also alleges that the City’s failure to enforce the PRI Law violates the rights of our most vulnerable residents to a clean and healthful environment, as guaranteed by the New York State Constitution.

The plaintiffs are not alone in calling for this law to be implemented. On February 13, 2024, 39 community organizations sent a letter to the City with this same demand. On July 1, 80 local physicians and pediatricians, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics New York State Chapter 1, sent their own letter to Mayor Byron Brown urging the same.

The legal complaint and affidavits are available online here:

“Buffalo has one of the highest lead poisoning rates in the nation,” said Carmela Huang, Senior Attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Because of the City’s failure to perform legally required inspections of rental properties, hundreds of children suffer the irreversible consequences of lead poisoning each year. On top of that, children living in Black neighborhoods in Buffalo are twelve times as likely to be poisoned by lead compared to children living in white neighborhoods. All children have the right to live in safe and healthy environments, which is why we are bringing this lawsuit to hold the City accountable.”

“In 2020, after decades of advocacy and outcry, the adoption of the Proactive Rental Inspections Law was celebrated by advocates and City officials as a turning point. Instead of sporadic, disorganized, too-little-too-late responses to childhood lead poisoning, this law would ensure Buffalo renters were protected,” said Andrea O Suilleabhain, Executive Director at Partnership for the Public Good. “However, almost four years later, families in Buffalo continue to live in dire conditions in rental housing that is making them sick and distressed.”

“Meaningful implementation of this rental inspection law will ensure rental properties are inspected automatically by the City of Buffalo, and that tenants do not have to potentially risk their home or sense of safety by calling the inspector,” said Dawn Wells-Clyburn, Executive Director at People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo. “Currently, some PUSH members with poor housing conditions fear calling for an inspection on their home because they worry it will have a negative impact on their relationship with their landlord, and they may be forced to leave. Many Buffalo tenants are experiencing housing crises because of this. ”

“If the City of Buffalo’s Proactive Rental Inspection program was implemented sufficiently, landlords of single and double-unit housing would be forced to maintain their properties up to code as a prerequisite to legally rent the units,” said DeAnna Eason, Executive Director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME). “Landlords would no longer have the choice to refuse to make repairs and to rent substandard housing.”

Many of our clients live in rental properties in the City of Buffalo ​​that they report to be in disrepair. The conditions are often unsafe for the tenant living in the unit, and many of these properties are single and double investor-owned rental units covered by the Proactive Rental Inspections Law,” said Kevin Quinn, Co-Managing Attorney at the Center for Elder Law and Justice. “CELJ’s clients report issues such as interior lead paint violations, inoperable furnaces and hot water tanks, leaking ceilings, rotting flooring, black mold, exposed electrical wiring, and more.”

In an affidavit for this lawsuit, Retired NYS Court of Appeals Judge and Former Buffalo Common Council Member Eugene Fahey said that based on his own knowledge, “local government officials have known about the problem of the effects of lead paint on children for over 34 years.”

In an affidavit for this lawsuit, Dr. Melinda Cameron, M.D., explained that many Buffalo houses are still dangerous for children. “In 2023 and 2024, all of the children who needed medical treatment at the WNY Lead Poisoning Prevention Center lived in rental housing,” she said.

“Now that I’ve had an experience with a landlord who retaliated against me after I asked for repairs, I understand why people will sit in a house with mold and not complain about the conditions of their housing,” said Krystal Cruz, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “There is too much risk in complaining, and if you have to leave your house, there are no other safe, affordable units available, especially for families with children.”  

“For families living in poverty, it is difficult, if not impossible, to escape the lead contaminated environments where they live,” said Dr. Myron Glick. M.D., Founder and CEO of Jericho Road Community Health Center, in an affidavit for this lawsuit. “In any given year, Jericho Road administers thousands of blood lead level tests to children in its care. Approximately 16% of these tests register higher than five micrograms per deciliter, the CDC’s benchmark for higher-than-normal levels. In the past year alone, 141 of our patients had an elevated blood lead level for the first time. The health impact of substandard housing on families living in poverty extends beyond lead contamination. Of all clients who came to Jericho Road’s Hope Refugee Drop-in Center in the last twelve months, 79% reported unsafe housing conditions (e.g. pests, mold, lack of heat). For all of these reasons, I believe that it is incumbent upon the City of Buffalo to enforce vigorously the Proactive Rental Inspection ordinance.”