The owners of about 40,000 older apartments across the state face fines of up to $250 per day if they fail to meet a Feb. 24 deadline to obtain certificates proving they have reduced the risk of lead poisoning to children, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Landlords who do not yet have "lead hazard risk reduction" certificates need to hire licensed inspectors to make sure the rental properties do not have lead dust or peeling paint, said Horacio Tablada, director of waste management for MDE.
The requirement applies to all rental units built before 1950, regardless of whether children live in them.
"This program is very preventative in nature," said Tablada. "If the landlord maintains the property, and the tenant maintains it, so there is no dust or chipping paint, the children will get no poisoning or elevated lead blood levels."
Property owners can find a list of licensed private lead inspectors on the MDE's Web site (www.mde.state.md.us). The cost of an inspection is often $300 per unit. If a lead problem is found, the landlord is responsible for abating the hazard, which can involve repainting or other renovations.
Tenants have the right to demand that landlords show them certificates proving their rental units do not pose a health threat, said Richard McIntire, spokesman for the state agency.
If a landlord fails to produce a certificate after Feb. 24, tenants can call the MDE at 410-537-3441 to complain, McIntire said. The agency may then inspect the unit and possibly issue fines, McIntire said.
"In some cases, it behooves a landlord to [get the certificates] because it makes a property more marketable," he said.
The requirement comes from a 1994 law, put into state regulations two years later, that gave landlords 10 years to make sure their units are not hazardous to children.
Partly because of the law, the percentage of children with elevated lead blood levels has dropped from 24 percent in 1993 to 1.7 percent in 2004, according to MDE.