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Inspectors declared homes lead-free when they weren’t, Maryland alleges in lawsuit

Maryland accused a Middle River inspection company of finding homes to be free of lead paint when they were not, in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Tipped off by a Catonsville resident concerned about lead abatement work the company performed in 2017, Maryland Department of the Environment investigators found that Home Free Lead Inspections LLC had in some inspections discovered lead paint but nonetheless issued lead-free certifications for the properties. Under state law, residential rental properties built before 1978 must be tested for lead, but those issued lead-free certifications are exempt.

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The department’s investigation uncovered numerous properties where Home Free owner David Brian Gillis or inspector Charles David Gillis had unduly issued the certifications in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Most are in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, with others in Silver Spring, Hyattsville and Sudlersville in Queen Anne’s County.

The MDE said in announcing the suit that a child “associated” with addresses included in its investigation had elevated blood lead levels. In another case, a child had elevated blood lead levels, but officials said they found the exposure “was not likely caused by the home.”

The state is seeking up to $25,000 in civil penalties for each of more than 150 alleged violations of lead paint laws and regulations.

Besides wrongly declaring homes lead-free, the company is accused of failing to provide 24 hours’ notice before conducting lead inspections and failing to file inspection documents within 10 days.

Ben Grumbles, the state environment secretary, called enforcement of lead paint laws “essential” to continuing to reduce lead poisonings across the state, and especially in Baltimore. The heavy metal is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause long-term neurological damage, including learning and behavioral problems.

“Shoddy inspections are unacceptable and preventable through education, training, and necessary and proper enforcement," Grumbles said in a statement.

Neither David Gillis, of Overlea, nor Charles Gillis, of Nottingham, could be reached for comment. A woman reached Wednesday evening who said she is married to David Gillis declined to comment.

State environment officials said in 2018 that they sent notice of its investigation to about 1,800 tenants and landlords, as well as a survey to find which properties were home to children or pregnant women, and which may have contained chipping or peeling paint. The information was used to prioritize follow-up inspections.

Officials said they sent 1,000 more letters last year to residents of properties that had not been re-inspected, and encouraged them to seek new inspections.

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