By a judge’s order, the Guamans, a five-member family whose youngest child is sick with lead poisoning, should relocate to an extended-stay hotel in Long Wharf Monday night until their litigation against the city concludes.
That deal, hashed out between city attorneys and legal aid lawyers in the 235 Church St. state courthouse’s library on Monday afternoon, was approved by Superior Court Judge Shiela Ozalis.
It’s the city’s first gesture of cooperation in a months-old legal challenge accusing the Health Department of shirking its duty to keep the Elm City’s children safe from lead paint poisoning by not following the law in its inspections at 1323 Whalley Ave.
The lawsuit, filed by New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLAA), asks the judge to compel the city to move the family and take over responsibility for abatement at the apartment in Amity. In court, the testimony has included reasons the landlord should be arrested, charges of corruption in a bid-rigging scheme for federal funds, and off-the-charts lead levels in a 5-year-old boy that trigger state law and city ordinances.
NHLAA got its first win with the judge’s short-term relocation order, but it will now need to convince Ozalis that the property needs to be fixed up and that the city should be the one in charge of finding a contractor.
In a sign of how she might rule on repairs, Ozalis encouraged the city to file its own application for federal abatement funds, rather than waiting on the landlord to submit his own paperwork.
“The city should be moving on a parallel track,” she said.
“We’ll certainly be doing that,” answered John Rose, Jr., the city’s corporation counsel.
“Inside as well as outside,” Ozalis added.
“Sure,” Rose replied.
Outside the courtroom, Amy Marx, an NHLAA attorney who’s been arguing the case, said she was pleased by the judge’s suggestion. “Our position is that enough time has passed,” she said. “Your conversations with the landlord have no bearing on your responsibilities.”
While that drama unfolds at 235 Church St., with the next hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning, the Guamans will move to Village Suites. Rafael Ramos, deputy director of the Livable City Initiative (LCI), the government agency that enforces parts of the housing code, found the spot over the weekend. On Long Wharf Drive, the family will get a room with two double beds and a pullout couch, along with a kitchenette. Before relocation begins, the agency needs an intake form back from legal aid lawyers, Rose said in court. The city’s costs can then be recovered through a lien against the property.
The living situation is only temporary, Ozalis noted. The Guamans have said they plan to move back into the apartment, especially after recently having trouble finding an apartment for the “right cost” in the “right neighborhood,” Marx said.
The one outstanding question is what to do about relatives who rent out the first-floor unit but don’t have lawyers of their own. They have a child of their own under 6 years old, whose blood tests haven’t shown elevated levels but who could be at great risk of ingesting chips or dust through hand-to-mouth behavior that’s normal at that age.
“Even if it’s [chipping] on the exterior, they could track [lead-paint chips] into the apartment, and the child plays in the front yard,” said Shelley White, NHLAA’s director of litigation, arguing that state law likely requires relocation. “It’s disturbing that the city doesn’t know for a fact whether they’re required to move [the family downstairs] when they’re here today for a lead case [for the family upstairs] where they know for a fact they have to move.”
Rose declined to comment as he left the courtroom.