Assembly OKs limits on rights of tenants in lead-paint units Legislation would restrict who may withhold rent

April 03, 1997|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

The General Assembly gave final approval yesterday to a controversial bill restricting tenants' rights to withhold rent when lead-paint endangers their children's health. Children's advocates have said they would urge Gov. Parris N. Glendening to veto the measure.

By a 37-10 vote, the Senate decided to alter a 1976 law under which tenants can pay rent into a District Court escrow account until landlords remove lead-based paint. The House earlier approved the same measure, which had been sought by landlords from throughout Maryland.

Landlords originally sought repeal of the escrow law, contending it was in conflict with a more recent law aimed at reducing childhood lead poisoning. That 1994 law requires landlords of 150,000 apartments built before 1950 to fix peeling or flaking lead paint.

The escrow law allows tenants to withhold rent until all lead-based paint is removed, which would cost thousands of dollars more than repairing the paint. Lawmakers amended the bill to let tenants put their rent in escrow if landlords did not comply with the more recent lead poisoning prevention law.

But the bill would allow tenants to withhold rent only if they lived in apartments built before 1950, when almost all had lead paint. Tenants would lose their escrow rights if they lived in one of more than 300,000 units statewide built from 1950 through 1978, when lead was banned from interior house paint by the federal government.

Ruth Ann Norton, director of the Coalition to Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning, said her members were "very disappointed" by the exclusion of tenants living in homes built in 1950 or later. She noted that a survey found lead paint in 60 percent of homes from that period nationwide.

Norton said the coalition would urge the governor to veto the bill.

Calls to the governor's press office for comment on the bill were not returned.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Democrat representing West Baltimore and Baltimore County, said she would have preferred a "cleaner bill" preserving the escrow rights of tenants living in newer housing. But she said she was unaware of any lead poisoning cases in homes built after 1950 and wanted to ensure some legal recourse for occupants of older apartments. She said many landlords of older properties have failed to register and repair them, as required by the lead poisoning prevention law.

D. Robert Enten, lobbyist for the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore, defended the bill, saying his landlord clients believed the requirements of the 1994 lead poisoning prevention law were stringent enough.

If there is a problem with newer housing, he said, legislation should be introduced to extend the lead poisoning prevention measure.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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