New Hampshire Legal Assistance

Helping to balance the scales of justice for everyone since 1971.

Lead paint is an equal-opportunity predator

All types of families are at risk in older housing; NHLA advocates for low-income tenants

William, Nicole and baby Frank, who has shown no symptoms of lead poisoning since the family moved out of their contaminated house this spring. NHLA helped them win back their security deposit and advocate for stronger protections in state law for families like them.

From stately 100-year-old farmhouses to apartments in converted mills, nearly 60 percent of homes in New Hampshire were built before 1978, when the federal government banned the use of lead paint. It’s the oldest housing stock in the United States, and it exposes people of all income levels to potential lead poisoning.

Tenants of a luxury apartment building in Manchester announced recently they plan to sue their landlord because of lead dust that permeated their building, exposing everyone – children, pregnant mothers, elderly people – to toxic lead dust.

But what about low-income families who can’t afford a private attorney? What if their landlord doesn’t just expose their children to lead paint or lead dust, but also threatens to evict them – keeping their security deposit and possibly ruining their credit - when they protest?

That’s why civil legal aid programs like New Hampshire Legal Assistance are here.

When William and Nicole learned they were expecting their first child last fall, they found a house to rent in Nashua with enough room for them and baby.

They also enrolled in a free counseling program to ensure the house was ready to be a healthy home for a newborn. Instead, they found lead paint on multiple surfaces.  

When William and Nicole brought the inspection results to their landlord, he told them he would take the house off the market, but that they had to leave - immediately, and without their security deposit. Through case workers at Child & Family Services of NH, they were referred to the Legal Advice & Referral Center, and eventually to NHLA, where attorney Elliott Berry took their case.

A few months after he was born, baby Frank’s blood showed an elevated level of lead. Lead dust can cause serious problems, including difficulty concentrating, lowered IQs, and behavior and learning problems. New Hampshire law requires landlords provide accommodations for relocation in cases of lead exposure, but baby Frank’s lead levels were 1 microgram lower than the threshold which triggers those protections.

Attorney Berry cited their case in advocating for greater protections for tenants at the State House. The Legislature passed the bi-partisan bill lowering the threshold of lead poisoning that must be found before tenants are eligible for those protections.

Attorney Berry also helped William negotiate to get his landlord to drop the eviction case and return the security deposit.

Though the couple won back their deposit, “we lost a lot of our furniture because we had to move (in with friends) in such a short amount of time, so we had to donate a lot of furniture and things that they didn’t have room for. But it was worth it because our son’s fine.”

For more information about protecting your family from lead poisoning, visit the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services website.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance is a state-wide non-profit law firm representing low-income and elderly New Hampshire residents who cannot afford a lawyer. NHLA maintains offices in Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Manchester and Portsmouth. For more information about New Hampshire Legal Assistance, please contact Communications Manager Sarah Palermo at 603-369-6650 or spalermo@nhla.org