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Harlem Tenants Worried About Building's Potential Environmental Issues

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Owners of polluted buildings throughout the state could soon be subject to tougher disclosure rules. The push for a crackdown comes after tenants of a building in Harlem discovered that they have never been told about the property's environmental problems. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

From the outside, one Harlem building looks like a storage facility. But inside, it is home to artists, who rent studio space. Some, though, have decided it is time to pack up.

"There are many who've already left," said Wilhelmina Grant, an artist who is a tenant in the building. "Some of them left skid marks."

After three years in the building, Grant is about to leave herself. She made the decision after learning a few months ago that hazardous waste was disposed on the site in the past. It was previously home to an industrial laundry and dry cleaner.

The state classified it a Superfund site in 1998. It says the site presents a "significant threat to the public health or the environment."

"I don't know if these vapors are harmful to me now or in the future," Grant said. "So for my health and for the health of people who visit me here, it's time for me to move on."

As far as State Sen. Bill Perkins is concerned, Grant and other tenants should have known the building had environmental problems.

"And why it was unknown is why we entered into the picture because they should have been told," Perkins said.

Perkins says this was allowed to happen because the people occupying the building were not actually renting from the building owner but from a tenant of the owner. Right now, landlords are only required to tell tenants, not sub-tenants, of potential environmental risks. Perkins is planning to introduce legislation to change that.

The legislation is still being drafted but it would require that tenants and sub-tenants be told that they are renting space in a toxic building. They would also have to be informed of the health risks associated with the site. In addition to that, the state senator wants the state to be able to enforce these new rules more effectively.

"There are thousands of Superfund sites around the state," said Peggy Shepard of West Harlem Environmental Action. "This legislation will enhance protection at all of those sites."

The building's owner said in a telephone interview with NY1 that he has no objection to the senator's legislation. He said that to the best of his knowledge, the owners complied with all rules and regulations.

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