Carol Edmead Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead. Photo Credit: David Handschuh

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead said Tuesday she will grant a preliminary injunction ordering the agency to conduct inspections in thousands of its units.

Edmead’s statement followed a hearing on Tuesday in which she lobbed tough questions at lawyers for the embattled New York City Housing Authority on inspecting its units for lead.

“We’re going to take the road not taken,” Edmead said, paraphrasing poet Robert Frost. She ruled from the bench after a roughly two-hour hearing, which she repeatedly asked housing authority lawyers if the agency could be trusted to conduct the inspections.

Edmead said she will issue a written ruling on the preliminary injunction in the coming days and would, at the NYCHA’s behest, hold a hearing on Monday to allow the agency to call witnesses.  

The preliminary injunction would require the housing authority to inspect all units in which children aged 8 years old or younger reside within 90 days, as well as those that have not been inspected since 2012 or have an open or unresolved complaint pertaining to lead.   

Jim Walden of Walden Macht & Haran, who appeared for the plaintiffs in the case, said the requirement would apply to at least 10,000 units, but said he had not yet determined an exact figure.

Walden told assembled press after the hearing that the judge’s ruling was a sign to NYCHA officials that “you cannot avoid your legal obligations.”

“The court has power now to force them to do their legal duty,” Walden said.

The plaintiffs in the case are the Citywide Council of Presidents, a coalition of elected leaders for NYCHA residents; and At-Risk Community Services, an advocacy group for public housing residents. Their legal team also includes Walden Macht attorneys Rachel Brook and Jacob Gardener.

In opposing the preliminary injunction, NYCHA argued that, since October, it has completed the nearly 9,000 visual assessments that it was required to complete by city law and that it has contracted with an outside vendor to complete visual assessments in 48,000 units this year.  

At the hearing, NYCHA lawyer Seth Kramer argued that the agency has limited resources on hand and that it has focused its efforts on abating lead paint in common areas.

NYCHA attorneys Nancy Harnett, Andrew Lupin and Melissa Renwick also appeared at the hearing. The agency did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Edmead’s remarks.  

Edmead’s professed support for the preliminary injunction is the latest blow to NYCHA regarding its handling of both lead and mold in its residences.

The hearing on lead came the day after U.S. District Judge William Pauley III of the Southern District of New York—who presides over a class action suit against NYCHA regarding mold in its buildings—ruled that he would hold off on holding an approval hearing for an amended consent decree in the mold litigation calling for the special master in the case to appoint an ombudsperson, a mold analyst and a data analyst.

Pauley said the proposed amended decree “smacks of a slapdash effort” to present him with a “temporary truce” that would allow the plaintiffs to claim a win and give NYCHA the appearance of taking action, and questioned the agency’s ability to follow through on its promises.

Pauley also presides over a proposed federal class action against NYCHA regarding lead.

In November, the city’s Department of Investigation issued a report stating that the housing authority failed to conduct inspections for a four-year period beginning in 2013 and that, after senior officials were made aware that NYCHA was not in compliance with lead laws, it still falsely certified to the federal government that it was keeping up with required inspections.

In February, a Bronx jury handed up a $57 million verdict to a mother whose daughter was poisoned by lead paint present in their NYCHA unit. 

This month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the NYCHA, and Shola Olatoye, the housing authority’s chair and CEO, announced she would step down from her post.