Attorney General Peter F. Neronha today announced that the Office has filed a lawsuit against a major Rhode Island rental corporation and its president for failing to comply with numerous state rental, lead hazard, and consumer protection laws that have placed the health and safety of hundreds of renters at risk and which constitute unfair market practices.
In the complaint filed in Providence County Superior Court, the Attorney General alleges that Pioneer Investments, L.L.C. and its president, Anurag Sureka, own and operate more than 175 residential rental units across Rhode Island, and routinely ignore lead hazard laws, landlord-tenant laws, housing code regulations, and regularly engage in unfair and deceptive trade practices throughout the state. The result, as alleged, is that Pioneer’s properties fall into disrepair, pose significant health and safety risks, and endanger Rhode Island renters and in particular the children who reside in these properties.
“Today’s action signals that enough is enough when it comes to the alleged misconduct of a major landlord who is placing the health and safety of Rhode Islanders at risk. Let’s cut right to it – as alleged, profits are being placed over basic human dignity and that cannot stand,” said Attorney General Neronha. “In Rhode Island, nearly 500 children are lead poisoned every year. It is preventable, and the toll that these children and we as a community pay is enormous. This Office is committed to stopping the lead poisoning of children, be it through prosecution as in this case, or through proactive legislation. I thank the Department of Health for their partnership and assistance as we aim to end lead poisoning in Rhode Island for good.”
As stated in the complaint, Pioneer tenants affirmed in sworn affidavits the presence of significant lead poisoning hazards, persistent rodent infestations, deterioration of the building structure, cracking walls and windows, and intermittent loss of water and heat in numerous Pioneer properties. A cross-reference of Pioneer properties with RIDOH and municipal code enforcement officials reveal a pattern of violations and failure to adhere to proper lead hazard mitigation and notification and maintenance code compliance. It is further alleged that Pioneer improperly charged and overcharged late fees on tenants, all while profiting unfairly from tenants with limited options in Rhode Island’s historically tight rental market.
According to RIDOH analysis, at least 11 children have had detectable levels of lead, and at least five children have been lead-poisoned while residing in Pioneer’s properties.
“Safe and healthy housing is a key environmental determinant of health,” said Interim Director of Health Utpala Bandy, MD, MPH. “Legal actions to hold landlords accountable are part of Rhode Island’s comprehensive approach to minimizing lead exposures for children, along with lead screenings, referrals for case management, and the identification of lead hazards in homes. We will continue to work with the Rhode Island Attorney General and other partners toward our goal of ensuring that the children in every ZIP code throughout the state live in environments that support healthy development.”
Attorney General Neronha, as the state’s lead advocate, seeks to protect Rhode Islanders from further lead poisoning and stop unlawful and dangerous housing practices by ordering Pioneer to provide code-compliant, lead-safe housing and complete, truthful lead disclosures to their tenants. Additionally, the Attorney General seeks disgorgement of unjust profits, restitution to tenants harmed by Pioneer’s conduct, and fines and penalties.
The complaint also calls for the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee and report on Pioneer’s compliance with their obligations to assess each property and correct conditions in full compliance with state and federal laws.
Lead Enforcement Action by Attorney General Neronha
Lead enforcement has been a priority for Attorney General Neronha. Since the fall of 2021, the Attorney General has filed 19 lawsuits and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties from landlords who have failed to fully address serious lead violations in properties where children were lead poisoned. As a result of actions by the Office, more than 65 housing units have been remediated following the issuance of intent to sue letters, pre-suit negotiations, and lawsuits.
In April 2023, Attorney General Neronha alongside legislative partners announced a package of bills aimed at drastically reducing childhood lead poisoning in Rhode Island. The three proposed bills mark a crucial step in eradicating childhood lead poisoning by ensuring compliance with existing laws.
In January 2023, Attorney General Neronha announced lead remediation agreements totaling more than $700,000 in value. In April and May 2022, the Attorney General filed lead enforcement lawsuits against Pawtucket and Woonsocket landlords. In March 2022, the Attorney General filed lead enforcement lawsuits against four Providence landlords following the lead poisoning of children at each of their properties.
The Attorney General has also strengthened working relationships with other state agencies engaged in lead poisoning prevention, including the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Management, and cities and towns. In February 2022, the Attorney General and RIDOH issued Guidance for Local Code Enforcement on Lead Hazard Violations to cities and towns to support local housing code enforcement officers in the vital role they can play in preventing childhood lead poisoning.
Like Newport Buzz? We depend on the generosity of readers like you who support us, to help with our mission to keep you informed and entertained with local, independent news and content. We truly appreciate your trust and support!