A bill that would require landlords with units built before 1978 to protect their tenants from lead-paint hazards cleared the General Assembly tonight, along with a provision urging courts to penalize baseless litigation over the problem.
HB644, approved in a conference agreement by House and Senate, would extend lead-paint regulations that now cover all rental homes in Maryland built before 1950. The bill also authorizes the state to regulate repairs, renovations and painting in all homes where lead paint is present.
House and Senate agreed on language urging judges to penalize any side in a lead-paint damage suit that makes a claim without "good faith" basis for it by making it pay the court costs and the other side's lawyers' bills. The bill originally had been tilted more toward giving landlords additional legal protection in such lawsuits, but that was amended by the Senate to be more "fair and balanced," in the words of Sen.Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Opponents, including Sens. Allan H. Kittleman, R-Howard, and Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick, opposed requiring lead-paint risk reductions in more rental housing. They argued it wasn't necessary, since the current law covering pre-1950 apartments has been credited with reducing lead poisoning by about 95 percent. The requirements would increase costs to landlords, who would raise rents as a result, they contended.
But supporters had argued more action is needed, because the majority of poisoning cases in recent years occur in housing whose owners are not required by the 1994 state law to take precautions - either owner-occupied homes or rental homes built after 1950. Lead paint was banned in 1950 in Baltimore city, the community with the bulk of poisoning cases, and prohibited everywhere else in 1978.
Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said the bill sets "strong standards and begins to ensure lead safe work practices are mainstreamed into housing rehabilitation."
A second bill calling for a study of requiring insurance coverage for lead paint poisoning was passed earlier.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun