Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha filed a complaint Tuesday against Pioneer Investments, which manages more than 175 properties in the state and has long attracted a litany of complaints from tenants about substandard housing.

In his Superior Court complaint, Neronha alleged that Pioneer Investments and its president, Anurag Sureka, “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.”

In a statement, Neronha said his 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.”

Neronha said Pioneer is contributing to the problem of children suffering lead poisoning in the state, with 11 children at Pioneer apartments showing detectable levels of lead. “It is preventable, and the toll that these children and we as a community pay is enormous,” he said.

One Pioneer tenant, Melissa Grussi of West Warwick, said in an interview that she has experienced a gamut of problems. “Rat infestation, water, mold, lead paint, a hole I’ve literally had in my bathroom, that I reported in May of 2018 – a hole went through the roof, water leakage throughout the years, non-stop. So they just finally fixed it, March of this year,” she said.

Grussi said she hasn’t moved due to a combination of factors, including a cancer diagnosis, the money needed to secure a new unit, and the difficulty of finding an apartment during the height of the pandemic.

According to the AG’s office, Pioneer tenants, in sworn affidavits, described “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 the Rhode Island Department of Health and municipal code enforcement officials reveals 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 renters with limited options in Rhode Island’s historically tight rental market.

Activists have long criticized Pioneer for how it manages its properties in Rhode Island.

In a statement, a Massachusetts-based lawyer for the firm, Samuel J. Grossack, said, “Pioneer has been made aware that a Complaint against them was filed in Superior Court by the Rhode Island Attorney General and Department of Health this Morning. Pioneer has yet to be served with the Complaint but is aware of the press release and what has been said so far. Pioneer disagrees with much of the information it has seen reported. Pioneer is anticipating reviewing the complaint in full and will respond accordingly.”

Neronha is seeking restitution for tenants, fines, and an independent monitor for Pioneer.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org