Md. seeks $150,000 fine from landlord over lead

Owner of city rental units accused of evading a law

May 10, 2002|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

The state is seeking a $150,000 fine from a Baltimore landlord accused of evading a law that requires apartment owners to remove the most obvious lead-paint hazards from their buildings.

The fine against James Cann, who owns 132 rental homes in the city, would be the state's highest penalty in a lead-paint case, said Richard McIntyre, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

Experts say lead contamination is one of the city's gravest public health problems. Children who ingest lead can damage their developing brains and suffer learning disabilities, hearing loss, violent behavior and mental retardation. The worst danger is from household paint, which commonly contained lead until 1978, when the additive was banned nationwide.

A 1994 state law requires owners of rental properties built before 1950 to reduce the risk of lead exposure by cleaning up of lead dust and fixing flaking paint whenever a property changes tenants. The landlords must register all their properties with MDE and provide the state with a "lead certificate" every time a cleanup is done.

Landlords were required to clean up lead hazards in at least half their properties by February of last year and must fix all by February 2006.

In a complaint issued last week, MDE officials said that when Cann registered his properties with the state, he reported that all were built after 1950. If true, he would be exempt from the law.

But a routine check of state tax rolls showed that Cann's properties were built before 1950, McIntyre said.

Cann also failed to clean up half his properties by the 2001 deadline, McIntyre said. MDE records show only six of Cann's properties have lead certificates, he said.

Cann is entitled to fight the charges at a hearing and may negotiate a lower penalty. Neither Cann nor his attorney, David H. Cohen, could be reached for comment yesterday.

Last year, city landlord Stanley Rochkind agreed to pay a $90,000 fine, the highest on record, for failing to register about 700 city rental units. The amount was less than half of what the state originally had said he should pay.

Baltimore has the state's worst lead contamination problem. In 2000, 353 Maryland children tested positive for high levels of lead in their bloodstreams, and 266 of them were from Baltimore.

That is a reduction from the previous year, when 446 city children and 555 children statewide had high lead levels. Officials credit a stepped-up enforcement program targeting Baltimore landlords.

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