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Cummings failed to file state, city paperwork for rental unit

Congressman Elijah Cummings' West Baltimore rowhome caught fire Tuesday morning.  No one was at home at the time of the fire, which is still under investigation. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Elijah E. Cummings failed to file required paperwork with city and state authorities for a rental unit he has owned in West Baltimore for years.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, failed to list the property in the 2000 block of W. Madison Ave. on the state's lead registry. He also did not register the three-story brick rowhouse with the city housing department until this month.

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Registration is required to help housing inspectors address code violations and ensure that tenants — particularly children — are not exposed to lead.

Asked about the absence of the filings, an aide said the congressman registered with the city this month. City records indicate he filed June 4, two days after a fire — apparently caused by a tenant — damaged the house. The property does not yet appear in the lead registry. Cummings said he is addressing that.

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"Once I was made aware of the requirements, I immediately took the steps to be in compliance," Cummings said in a statement. "I am currently in the process of ensuring that all requirements on the state and local levels have been and will be met."

Under a 1994 law intended to reduce lead poisoning in children, the owners of most rental property constructed before 1978 are required to file with the Maryland Department of the Environment. Cummings was a member of the House of Delegates when the law was approved.

State records indicate the house was built in 1920. An aide said there are no children living there.

Cummings listed annual rental income in the range of $5,001 to $15,000 for the property on his 2014 financial disclosure report filed with the Clerk of the House. He lists earning between $15,001 and $50,000 on a second rental property on St. Paul Street.

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At the time of the fire, Cummings said he believed it was started by a tenant leaving something on the stove. Officially, the cause remains under investigation.

Cummings owns the home, which is listed as his principal residence in state tax records. An aide said he rents out part of the house.

Cummings is not the first politician who has failed to add his property to the state's lead registry. City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt faced criticism in 1996 for failing to register a property she owned with two business partners in the 3500 block of Powhatan Ave. A 3-year-old girl living there was found to have lead poisoning.

Before this year, rental property owners were required to register any unit built before 1950. In 2012, the General Assembly expanded the law to include property built between 1950 and 1978.

Ruth Ann Norton, president and CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, has pushed for stronger regulations against lead and said she was surprised that Cummings had not registered the property.

"We could not have a better advocate for children who face lead hazards, someone who has helped to fight for lead poisoning prevention legislation and funding," she said. "I am heartened to learn that he is in the process of rectifying this oversight."

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