Legislators seek change in lead law

February 19, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Doris McDonnell owns an apartment building in Hagerstown that she says she would rather board up than rent.

The reason: State regulations require her to test for lead paint, at $125 per test, each time she rents one of the building's five one-bedroom units to a new tenant.

She also loses money while the unit remains unoccupied until the testing is completed, McDonnell said

That's why her West Washington Street building is now vacant, she said.

"I would like to rent it, but it doesn't make sense to rent it at a loss," said McDonnell, who lives in Myersville, Md.

She testified Wednesday before a House of Delegates Committee that is considering legislation to ease lead paint restrictions for property owners.


The state Department of the Environment estimates that 90 percent of homes built before 1950 contain lead paint.

Swallowing or breathing lead paint can poison children, slowing their development and causing learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

"Lead paint is a very real problem," said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition Against Childhood Lead Poisoning, an organization that supports lead paint regulations.

Several local lawmakers contend, however, that the regulations are hurting many towns and cities. Its impact on Hagerstown is significant because 62 percent of the city's households are rental properties, they said.

"That's a huge, big number," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

The home-ownership rate for Washington County at 63.8 percent, the lowest rate in the Tri-State area.

In addition to placing a burden on landlords, the lead paint law discourages people from buying properties because of concerns over environmental regulations, Donoghue said.

"I just think we need some relief," he said.

Donoghue and most other area legislators are co-sponsors of a measure to repeal the requirement that landlords place rent payments in escrow if they do not remove lead paint from a dwelling.

Landlords testified that the escrow law is too restrictive, while supporters of lead paint regulations said it acts as a deterrent to property owners who might become lax in their removal of the hazard.

Even if bill is approved, many lead paint regulations will remain in place. For that reason, several rural lawmakers in the state plan to seek some regulatory relief from Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said the lead paint law encourages new development to occur away from established communities, which is the opposite of what Glendening is trying to accomplish in his proposals to control growth.

"As we try to control sprawl and growth, we ought to consider what is making people move outside the old towns," he said.

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