Tenant’s Rights – Using Maryland’s Laws to Create Lead Safe Housing for Tenant Families

Any child who lives in a property built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned for use in homes, may be at risk from lead hazards in their home.  The number one reason that we hear from tenant clients when we ask why they have lived with the numerous health and safety issues in their home without complaining to their landlord (rental property owner) is “I do not want to get put out.”  In this economy, tenants are increasingly fearful that they will have nowhere to go and no home for themselves and their families if they complain about the chipping paint or leaking ceiling in their home.  Often times families live for years in substandard housing because they have not been informed of their rights or that there are other options that will not result in them being homeless.  There are several important landlord-tenant laws in Maryland that support tenants in getting lead hazards repaired in their home safely and that will help protect their children from being lead poisoned including:
Rent Escrow - The Rent Escrow statute in Maryland allows a tenant to put their landlord on written notice that there are threats to health and human safety and to place their rent in escrow if the landlord does not respond in a timely manner to repair the defects.  Defects such as chipping, peeling paint, leaking roofs, mold and other defects are things that are considered a threat to life, health and safety under the rent escrow law.  (Maryland. Code Ann. Real Property 8-211)  Something unique to Maryland is its lead specific Rent Escrow law.  (Maryland Real Property Law 8-211.1)  Maryland has the strongest state law in the nation that gives tenants’ protections and rights specifically and exclusively for lead hazards. 
If a rental property is built before 1950, this Rent Escrow law allows a tenant to send notice to their landlord simply based on chipping, peeling or flaking paint in their older rental unit.  After sending written notice to their landlord, the landlord has thirty (30) days in which to repair the chipping paint or other defects using a lead certified contractor.  A Housing Code Violation Notice, a Health Department Lead Violation, or any other government agency notice to the landlord also counts as written notice for purposes of Rent Escrow.  If the landlord does not make the necessary repairs within 30 days, the tenant can go to their local District Court and file a Rent Escrow Complaint.  You do not need any attorney to file a Rent Escrow Complaint.
If a rental property is built before 1950, the landlord is required to be registered with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and have a valid lead inspection certificate for the property before the tenant moves in.  If the owner does not have a proper lead certificate, the tenant can file a Rent Escrow Complaint at their local District Court and ask that their rent be put into escrow until the property is repaired and passes a lead inspection. 
Retaliatory Eviction - What most tenant clients are surprised to know is that from the moment notice is given to the landlord the owner cannot: 1. Increase rent; 2. Lessen essential services such as heat; 3. or, evict the tenant merely because the landlord received notice of the defects in the property.  This is considered retaliatory eviction and against the law.  (Maryland Code Ann. Real Property 8-208)  Should the court find that the landlord is guilty of retaliatory eviction the tenant is entitled to be protected and may be allowed to live an additional six (6) months in the property. 
Relocation Assistance Actions - If you live in a pre-1950 rental property in Maryland that has not been inspected and certified as required, tenants may be entitled to up to $2,500 in relocation assistance from the landlord to move to lead certified housing. Don’t stay in a home with lead hazards, call us at 410-534-6447 to find out how you can get repairs made to your home or move to lead safer housing. 
Failure to Pay Rent Complaints - Tenants should be aware that landlords who file Failure to Pay Rent Complaints for their pre-1950 built rental properties must be registered and have a lead inspection certificate in order to use the Rent Court process to collect rent.  If you live in an older rental property, tenants can ask the Judge in Rent Court (District Court) to dismiss the Failure to Pay Rent Complaint if the owner does not have a valid lead inspection certificate number listed on the Complaint form.
Tenant Responsibilities - Just like the landlord, the tenant has some responsibilities under the law that they must comply with.  The tenant is required to regularly pay rent and to send written notice of the problems in their home to the landlord as soon as possible when they happen.  A telephone call and/or text is not enough and difficult to prove in Rent Court.  Additionally, the tenant must allow the landlord and the necessary workers into the property during reasonable hours (9am-5pm) to do the work.  If there is chipping and peeling paint in the older home, the landlord is required to use certain lead certified workers who have been trained to do the lead work safely and perform proper clean up.  Tenants can contact the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) at 410-534-6447 or via our website www.ghhi.org if they have any questions or concerns on the process and what their rights are as tenants. 
Don’t wait, call us now for help in getting lead hazards repaired in your home!  Lead poisoning is entirely preventable!
Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide general information only. It is not intended to give legal advice. Any tenant or rental property owner needing legal advice should consult an attorney.

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week: Oct. 20-26, 2013

It's that time of the year again! Observed October 20-26, National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is upon us.
This year's National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week theme, "Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future," underscores the importance of the many ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead and prevent its serious health effects.
GHHI National staff has planned a week of informative activities throughout Maryland. Click here for our calendar of events.
Not in Maryland? Visit the EPA website for more information on NLPPW activities taking place nationwide as well as for downloads to help spread the word on NLPPW.

Lights, Camera, Action: My Work with the Environmental Spielbergs-in-Training

Over the past year, I collaborated with the Environmental Justice Partnership’s Student Environmental Development Program (SEDP) to promote GHHI’s Safe at Home Asthma program. The nine participants, in grades nine and tenth, attend Baltimore City Schools. They worked together to educate their families and neighbors across the city about GHHI’s programs and services and the importance of living in a green and healthy home. They in turn became the student ambassadors of their neighborhoods and amateur documentarians.
From February through July 2013, program participants took part in trainings on lead and lead poisoning prevention as well as indoor environmental hazards that can trigger asthma symptoms. The students were equipped with the essentials of an “environmental ambassador”: backpacks (check), t-shirts (check) and a camera (check) and were asked to head out into their communities to inspire dialogue on healthy homes and initiate change. They met with family members and neighbors to discuss the importance of eliminating indoor environmental health hazards for those with asthma and preventing lead poisoning.  Each student was required to complete a short environmental assessment for each home visited and provide general notes on the home.  Feedback was turned over to GHHI staff in order to further assist these families.
Using their cameras, the ambassadors took pictures of homes with lead-based paint; mold; water damage and other hazards found in their communities and created a video presentation of their pictures. The photos were combined to create a Healthy Homes presentation that was delivered in community centers, schools, and churches throughout the city. Each presentation also contained a short skit, enacting a student ambassador’s role in the community, the harmful effects of lead poisoning and other environmental health hazards. Ever helpful, they also informed the audience about how they could secure assistance from GHHI if such problems existed in their homes.  
Working with these students was a true pleasure. They are a strong voice in their community and it’s great to see youth so passionate about educating their neighbors and friends. And, I’m not alone in the joy that I experienced working with these amazing young people.
Barbara Bates-Hopkins, member of the Environmental Justice Partership, also had a great experience with the student ambassadors. She has been working with the students of SEDP for the last three years. “These young people need and want our support to ensure that their voices are heard.  I feel that our investment in them, along with the strong support their parents provided, will help them achieve their greatest potential in terms of economic, social and human rights.”
Ezinne Chinemere is a GHHI Environmental Health Educator. She is headquartered in the organization’s Baltimore office.

Response to MDE 2012 Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance Report

While we are heartened to see the continued decrease in the number of poisoning cases reported above 10ug/dL, it is clear there is much work to be done to educate the public on the impact of very low level poisoning and to debunk the myths about who is getting poisoned.
We continue to see an increasing number of children poisoned in homeowner occupied properties often due to unsafe renovation practices. We are hopeful that the new CDC guidelines, which affirm that there is no safe blood lead level in children, as well as the new legislation in Maryland that strengthens lead paint renovation standards help address this problem quickly. However, it is clear that new resources must be invested to ensure success.
We are concerned that the report from MDE still emphasizes lead exposure benchmarks at 10 ug/dL given the CDC has strongly recommended that all states move its reporting thresholds to 5 ug/dL. This becomes confusing for both families and the health care community.
In Baltimore, where blood lead testing is mandated and virtually every child is exposed to child care centers, homes and other buildings with significant lead hazards, only 33 percent of at-risk children were tested. It is important that the city, state and healthcare community develop improved systems to reach more children.
Few investments match the returns that lead poisoning prevention has shown, with a $1 investment yielding as much as $214 back to the US taxpayer. We must protect our most vulnerable children by focusing our efforts on eradicating this entirely preventable disease once and for all.
Click to read the report.

Meet the Breathe Easies!

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Ad Council have teamed up in the launch of public service announcements featuring a new band of puppets called the Breathe Easies who star in online music videos for kids and caregivers about asthma triggers and how to prevent attacks
Be sure to check out the Breathe Easier video “Vacuum Up the Floor.” Might they have a chart topper out of on their hands?

What you can do?

Get familiar with the Breathe Easies PSAs (click here to watch them in Spanish!) 

Promote noattacks.org in your community, among kids and families and with your partners

Encourage parents and caregivers to use the tools and resources in this new campaign to help prevent kids' asthma attacks



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