Pratt says she'll give up city houses Comptroller cites controversy over her rental properties

Questions 'distract me'

Vow comes after child in one unit diagnosed with lead poisoning

September 19, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Baltimore City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said yesterday that she will get out of the landlord business -- just two weeks after a 3-year-old child who lived in one of her rental units was reported suffering from lead poisoning.

Though she gave no time when she would divest herself of ownership of her city rental properties, Pratt said that her attorneys are working out the final details.

"I think because I am a city official, I will have to get out of the real estate business," Pratt said. She added that questions surrounding her rental properties "distract me from doing what the citizens elected me to do."

Pratt said that she will either sell the properties outright or transfer them to a nonprofit organization.

Since Pratt was elected in November, questions have been raised about the management of her properties. The latest surfaced two weeks ago when a 3-year-old girl who had been living in one of Pratt's Northwest Baltimore rowhouses was found to have high levels of lead in her system.

An inspection by Kennedy Krieger Institute, which was treating the child medically, found 33,193 micrograms of lead per square foot in a window well, far above the 800-microgram safety threshold set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Yesterday, Pratt released the results of another inspection, by Baltimore County-based True Colors Painting Inc., that said there were 6,000 micrograms of lead per square foot.

Pratt and her partners, Margaret Smith and Michael Middleton, failed to register the property at 2909 Garrison Blvd. and repair it as required under Maryland's lead-poisoning prevention law. Health Department officials have given Pratt until Oct. 11 to clean up the lead.

"It is really not an awful lot of work to do," said Elias Dorsey, the city deputy commissioner of health.

Pratt probably will have to eliminate the high concentrations of lead before selling her property.

Pratt and city records differ on how many properties she owns. She says she owns three, all rowhouses -- two of which are jointly owned and one that she owns alone.

But city records show that she owns nine more rental units with Julius Henson, her former campaign manager. Henson was her real estate officer but was forced to resign after three weeks of controversy over the appointment.

She said she sold her interest in the nine investment properties last year, but the transaction was never recorded officially. Yesterday, Pratt said that her attorneys will take her name off records as an owner.

City records show that the three rowhouses she owns have assessed values of $54,070, $75,860 and $93,440.

Pratt said intense media scrutiny was a large part of the reason she decided to pull out of the real estate business.

"It is unfortunate because all the property I own is in Baltimore City. All taxes are paid, and all water bills are paid" in the city, Pratt said. "What I was doing was providing very decent, affordable housing to citizens in Baltimore. I think that you can always find something wrong with real estate if you want."

Last March, an East Baltimore rowhouse she and Henson own was cited for several code violations, including missing tile and rotting wood on the kitchen floor and a defective pipe that carries waste from the house.

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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