Last June, Victoria Bullock moved her four children to a quiet block in East Baltimore in hopes of finding refuge from drug traffic. But she soon found the danger inside her home, instead of the street.
After a few months, she says, "Neighbors told me there was lead paint, but the landlord said he didn't know anything about it."
After noticing a wall peeling and crumbling in a back, second-floor bedroom, she moved her children -- ages 11, 9, 6 and 3 -- into other rooms. Dust from chalking or peeling lead paint can cause irreversible brain damage in children who swallow or inhale it.
Although Bullock was never informed there was lead paint in her decrepit rowhouse at 1806 N. Port Street, it has a 4 1/2 -year history of lead-paint violations.
The city health department has issued four different orders to de-lead the two-story rowhouse since a child living there was found to be poisoned in August 1986. The lead paint in the home has never been properly removed or covered over, records show, even though the property has changed hands twice and '' at least two different sets of tenants have lived in it.
Today, Victoria Bullock's rented home still has peeling paint and crumbling plaster, dingy walls, a leaky roof and an unreliable hot-water heater.
As unattractive as it looks, the house Bullock rents has been a desirable investment for out-of-town speculators.
In the last three years the house has been owned by a Virginia partnership, which sold it to a Montgomery County man in 1987, who sold it a year later to two men in Washington, D.C., Gregory Lomax and his father-in-law, Edgar Mitchell Jr.
Lomax and Mitchell bought the house for $16,000 in July, 1988, according to land records. Their mortgage payment is $182.29. Through a Baltimore property management company, the owners charge Bullock $300 a month rent, she says. Utilities are extra.
In a telephone interview, Mitchell said he and Lomax bought the house sight unseen as an investment but would now like to sell it.
Mitchell said they knew nothing about the lead paint violations when they bought the house.
"We were told since we bought it, it did have lead paint in it, but that we weren't being held liable," he said. "We thought the person who sold it to us fixed it."
City officials, however, have charged Lomax and Mitchell in housing court with failing to correct the property's lead-paint violations. The offense is a misdemeanor. A warrant also has been issued charging the owners with failure to appear in court March 12 for trial.
Mitchell said he did not need to appear in court because the lead-paint violations were "existing before we bought the property. We were told we did not need to appear in court."
He refused to say who told him he did not need to appear in court.
Health department records obtained by The Evening Sun note that some lead-abatement work was done on the house in 1986 and 1988, but it was never properly finished. A reinspection in the past six months found only about one-third of the lead paint detected in an inspection 2 1/2 years ago.
But the latest tests showed lead-based paint remains on baseboards, doors and floors inside the home and on windows, walls and door frames on the home's exterior, according to Pete Dwyer, the city prosecutor handling the case.
"Lomax and Mitchell may not have known that the building contained lead paint when they bought it, but they certainly know now," Dwyer said.
Bullock, meanwhile, says she wants to have her children tested, but hasn't had a chance.
Mitchell and Lomax visited the house a few months ago and took down a list of needed repairs, Bullock says, including the leaking roof that has caused the plaster to fall in the second-floor hallway.
But Bullock says nothing has been fixed.
When asked why no repairs have been made, Mitchell said, "I have a management company to do that."
He refused to answer further questions.
"I'd like to sell [the house]," he said. "It's too far away to be looked after, just too far away."
There are many landlords who have been issued more lead-paint violation notices than Mitchell and Lomax. The list includes some of the city's biggest landlords, both public and private.
The most unabated lead-paint violations belong to R. William Connolly Jr., who owns 628 rental units, according to city housing spokesman William Toohey. Connolly has been issued at least 38 lead-paint violations since July 1987, and 22 remain on the books, according to City Health Department records obtained by The Evening Sun. The oldest citation dates back nearly three years.
Connolly, who has a Randallstown address, could not be reached for comment. His lawyer also would not not comment.
In addition, Connolly has a history of housing violations. From 1980 through 1989, he was convicted 18 times in housing court, Toohey says.