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October 21, 2013
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.
March 14, 2013
The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) helps break the link between unhealthy housing and unhealthy children. By providing family advocacy, legal services, outreach and education, public policy and legislative advocacy, lead hazard reduction, and technical assistance nationwide, GHHI addresses the challenges families and communities face to ensure children are able to live, learn and play in safe and healthy homes. It is on the legal services team that its staff attorney Shakétta Denson makes a difference.
Shakétta, a Maryland native, keeps at top of mind creating safer homes for children and families. She received her Bachelor’s in Paralegal Science/Pre-Law from Villa Julie College, now Stevenson University, and received her law degree from the University of Baltimore School Of Law, focusing on Advocacy and Litigation.
For eight years, Shakétta worked as a Social Security paralegal, and after graduating and passing the bar, earned a position at the same firm as a Social Security attorney. After passing the bar, Shakétta began volunteering with the Pro Bono Resource Center, Maryland Volunteers Lawyers Services and The Homeless Persons Representation Project, all organizations she still works with. In addition, Shakétta is co-chair of the Public Service Committee of the Young Lawyers Section of the Maryland State Bar Association and participates and plans volunteer outings to help other young lawyers use their station to give back to the Maryland community.
She said “My job as a SSD attorney was no longer filling my need to give back and help people. I became a lawyer to make a difference in people’s lives and I did not feel like I was doing that anymore. I saw my current position as an opportunity to do just what I wanted, helping children and low-income families, using the law."
In working to break the link between unhealthy housing and unhealthy children, the staff has since 1994 developed 27 pieces of successful legislation to set standards for enforcement, prevention and education.
“The work of GHHI is important because it gives families hope and confidence. Being able to intervene in a child’s life and knowing that in some small way our work can help prevent reading issues, aggression issues, and nutritional issues is major,” commented Shakétta.
So, what’s a day in the life like for the family advocacy attorney at the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative?
Shakétta relays, “When families call that have issues in their house involving lead and/or threats to health and safety, I meet with them to come up with a plan on how to get the issues fixed. I am there to help as little or as much as the family needs.”
She continued, “The court system can be confusing and frustrating for most tenants. They do not know their rights and the landlord’s obligations. I help ease the process by explaining step by step what is going to happen, how it should happen and what they should and should not be doing. I also explain to them what the landlord can and cannot do.”
Lead poisoning is not the only barrier that some clients face in achieving a healthy and safe home. There is not legislation that currently exists in Maryland to tackle other home hazards. Shakétta would like to change this.
Shakétta said, “We need laws to deal with mold remediation and radon.”
She finds it rewarding when a client says to her “thank you we don’t know what we would have done without GHHI.”