BALTIMORE, MD (June 15, 2001) – As a result of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE) increased lead enforcement initiatives, Administrative Law Judge Noreen Lynch recently issued an administrative penalty of $45,300 against an Eastern Shore landlord for violations of the state’s Lead Hazard Risk Reduction laws.
Judge Lynch issued a Proposed Decision May 22, assessing the penalty against Tracey Whitehead of Pocomoke City following Whitehead’s request for a hearing on MDE’s charges.
In August 1997, Whitehead leased a rental property located in the 400 block of Market Street in Pocomoke City to a family without complying with risk reduction standards. During the course of the tenancy, the family’s one-year old son tested positive for an elevated blood lead level. Facts in the case demonstrated that Whitehead, after being notified of the lead poisoning, “did nothing to correct the violation by getting certified contractors to perform specific risk reduction treatments.”
The state’s Lead Hazard Risk Reduction laws, enacted in 1994, require owners of rental property constructed before 1950 to meet a lead hazard risk reduction standard. Landlords are required to meet the standard whenever there is tenant turnover; they receive notice that a property has chipping, peeling or flaking paint; or they receive notice that a child with an elevated blood lead level has lived in the property.
As of February 24, property owners also had to insure that 50 percent of their rental units had been brought into compliance with the risk reduction standards regardless of whether there was a turnover or other triggering event.
Whitehead, who was represented by counsel, did not dispute MDE’s determination that he committed a violation of the law. Instead Whitehead argued that he should be exempt from the statute and not responsible for paying the assessed penalty, because the property was subsequently sold to the tenants under a land installment contract.
The judge found that MDE was entitled to prevail in its action and that the penalty assessed was appropriate. The judge strongly rejected Whitehead’s argument that the subsequent conveyance of the property exempted him from compliance with the statute.
“This [argument] contradicts the letter and the spirit of the law concerning the lead risk reduction with respect to children and persons at risk,” Judge Lynch wrote in her opinion. “One cannot retroactively remove his responsibility for lead reduction during a period of ownership merely by a subsequent conveyance of the property interest. If such an ‘escape’ were to be made available, enforcement of the lead reduction laws would be gutted.”
“Judge Lynch’s decision is the second significant penalty levied against landlords found to be in violation of laws aimed at protecting our youngest Marylanders,” said MDE Secretary Jane T. Nishida. “This decision emphasizes our message to landlords of older properties that ignoring the law regarding hazards of lead paint poisoning is totally unacceptable.”
The Secretary added that although MDE is stepping up its enforcement efforts, it will continue to work with property owners by entering into agreements with those who are committed to achieving compliance with the lead paint law. Property owners may call (800) 776-2706 for lead law compliance information and registration.
Nationally, almost one million pre-school age children have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood which may result in poor school performance, inability to read, aggressive behavior, hearing loss or even mental retardation. In 1998, approximately 5,840 Maryland children were reported to have exposure levels high enough to inflict irreversible harm.