Advocates urge tougher lead paint regulations

Coalition wants focus on noncompliant landlords

January 15, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Advocates for tougher lead paint regulations urged lawmakers yesterday to support new enforcement legislation against landlords whose rental properties don't meet state standards.

During a briefing before the House Environmental Matters Committee, the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, a nonprofit organization based in Canton, asked the delegates to back legislation that would prohibit landlords from collecting rent through Rent Court unless they can prove their property complies with the state's lead paint regulations.

Rental properties that do not meet state standards for lead paint abatement are one of the leading causes of lead poisoning, said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the coalition.

She said the coalition also wants lawmakers to give families living in rental properties that are out of compliance access to relocation funds..

"About 2,500 kids live in noncompliant units," Norton said. "For the kids living in noncompliant units, the resources are zero."

The state has seen a large drop in lead paint cases since 1993, but thousands of children still test positive for lead, which can cause developmental problems and death.

In Baltimore, which has had the highest rate of lead poisoning in the state, the number of children testing positive for lead has decreased 88 percent since 1993, with 230 children under age 6 lead-poisoned in 2001 and 2,027 children younger than age 6 with elevated lead levels.

Statewide, the number of lead-poisoned children decreased 85 percent since 1993 with 288 children younger than age 6 lead poisoned in 2001 and 2,841 children under 6 with elevated lead levels, according to a survey by the Third National Health and Nutrition and Examination Survey provided by the coalition at yesterday's briefing.

The landlords who testified said they all were in compliance with state lead paint regulations, often spending hundreds of dollars to clean their rental units every time they get a new tenant. They said they don't believe the state needs any new laws, just tougher enforcement of the current ones.

"Our message today, simply put, is a lot of people are in compliance," said Michael Gisriel, a lobbyist representing landlords of multifamily housing complexes. "The problem is the noncompliant landlords.

"We're against anything that puts additional burdens on landlords," Gisriel said. "Let the system work."

The Environmental Matters Committee appeared more sympathetic toward the coalition than to the landlords.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the committee, said lead paint abatement "is of particular interest to me. It is in fact a statewide issue."

Baltimore is asking Annapolis for $4 million in new funding to help with lead paint abatement, but that amount might be difficult this year because of the state's total $1.8 billion budget shortfall.

Norton's list of proposals targets landlords rather than seeking government aid.

"We really want to support the compliant owners," the coalition director said. "It's the noncompliant landlords that are the problem."

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

10 a.m.:Senate meets, Senate chamber.

10 a.m.:House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

Noon:Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is inaugurated governor, Senate chamber and steps of the State House.

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