First landlord jailed for defying lead laws

District judge sentences Prince George's man to five straight weekends

April 07, 2004|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A Prince George's County man who owns several rental properties in Baltimore has become the first landlord jailed here for violating state lead laws since the city began cracking down on the problem four years ago, city health officials said.

Elliott Thompson, 45, of the 6800 block of Randolph St. in Landover Hills was sentenced March 24 to 10 days in jail after he ignored numerous orders to remove lead from a house at 2211 Roslyn Ave. in West Baltimore, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, said yesterday.

Thompson will be incarcerated for five consecutive weekends. He began serving his sentence March 27, Beilenson said. Efforts yesterday to reach Thompson were unsuccessful.

"This is the first case where the contempt was so egregious that a judge actually ordered jail," Beilenson said. "We didn't even ask for this; the judge just ruled this way."

Beilenson said putting landlords in jail isn't the intent behind a strict enforcement of the state's tough lead paint laws, but he thinks Thompson's case could serve as a wake-up call to other landlords who aren't in compliance with state standards.

"If you're going to be extremely recalcitrant in cleaning up your properties to make them safe for future residents, then you're going to pay the price," Beilenson said. "Clearly, jailing people is not the first step. First we send out a violation notice. If they get multiple notices, then they're brought to court. Then there's a contempt order, then another. ... It's only someone who's truly recalcitrant who ends up with a jail sentence."

The state's lead laws require owners of rental properties constructed before 1950 to reduce lead-hazard risks.

"The abatement does not mean lead-free," Beilenson said. "It means lead-safe."

Beilenson said the average rowhouse abatement costs from $8,000 to $10,000. If the landlord only has to replace windows to comply with a violation notice, the costs are significantly less, he said.

Since the city began aggressively pursuing enforcement of lead-paint violations in 2000, 514 violation notices have been filed, as well as 84 contempt petitions against negligent property owners, Beilenson said.

Records of the Department of Assessments and Taxation show that Thompson owns at least 10 properties in Baltimore and at least a half-dozen in North Carolina.

Thompson was ordered by a District Court judge to abate the Roslyn Avenue property in April 2001, Beilenson said. After he failed to comply, city health officials filed a contempt charge against him, Beilenson said. At the contempt hearing, Thompson was given extra time to address the problem, the commissioner said.

At another hearing in August last year, Thompson was again ordered to abate the property. At that time, he was also given the option of conveying the property to someone who would abate it, Beilenson said.

Last month, Thompson received the 10-day jail sentence for his inaction.

Beilenson said officials with the City Health Department and the state Department of the Environment will continue cracking down on landlords who aren't in compliance with lead laws -- efforts heralded by the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

On Dec. 2, a former city lead-paint compliance inspector was fined $100,000 for failing to address lead violations at four rental properties -- violations that dated to 1998.

Ali Sardarizadeh was a licensed inspector with the Health Department's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, which is responsible for reviewing properties for violations and citing landlords who fail to adhere to the state's lead laws.

Sardarizadeh was fired from his job, which paid just less than $30,000. Beilenson said yesterday that Sardarizadeh appealed his termination, but the decision to fire him was upheld in court.

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