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City officials warn landlords as lead-law deadline looms

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    Toledo City Councilman Peter Ujvagi, center, speaks at a new conference about the impending deadline for lead safe rental registrations. About 12,500 properties are required to be certified lead-safe by June 30, but only 1,050 have done so to date.

    The Blade/Lauren Lindstrom
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  • CTY-Lead-6

    Flaking paint in a windowsill would be flagged as a potential lead hazard in a rental home June, 2017, in Rochester, New York. The city of Rochester inspects all rental homes for, among other things, potential lead hazards. Inspectors perform visual inspections and, in areas of the city designated high-risk for lead poisoning, also administer dust wipe tests. The Toledo law requires rental buildings built before 1978 with up to four units and day-care centers to be certified lead-safe.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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With a fast-approaching deadline for the city’s lead-safe rental ordinance, city and health department officials on Tuesday warned landlords to obtain lead-safe certification for their properties before July 1 or be fined. 

Registration with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department is well behind for landlords in zone one to meet a June 30 deadline. 

“It is now time for enforcement to begin,” said Councilman Peter Ujvagi, a long-time supporter of the law. “We are serious about our next steps. We encourage everyone to take the steps now. ... Toledo is serious about this. We are going to enforce the law.”

WATCH: Councilman discusses lead law deadline

To date, 1,487 properties have been certified lead-safe. Of those, 1,050 fall under zone one — meaning just 8.4 percent of an estimated 12,500 properties in that area have met the deadline thus far. 

“Unfortunately we are nowhere near where we want to be with our numbers,” health commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said. “The concern is, if we work every day for the next 38 days, we’ll still have to do 289 per day, and we know that is not going to happen. Unfortunately, we’ve pulled away from protecting our kids to now looking at enforcement.”

Toledo City Council in 2016 passed the law to require all rental properties with one to four units built before 1978 and home day-care centers to be inspected and tested for lead to receive a lead-safe certificate. Owners who rent properties without a certificate after the deadline face fines of $50 per day up to $10,000. 

The health department will use a collections agency and pursue fines through the court system, Mr. Zgodzinski said. Zone one landlords will be mailed a postcard next week with information about the deadline.

“They’re not fully grasping what could actually happen to the landlords if they don’t comply,” Mr. Zgodzinski said. “I’m not one to use the big stick, but with this we’re going to have to with some individuals who just do not want to comply. And without that enforcement, what good is a law?”

Owners can apply for a hardship extension with the city’s department of neighborhoods. Interested owners can call the department at 419-245-1400. Extensions are available for landlords who have completed an inspection but cannot afford to complete necessary work by the deadline.

A list of lead inspectors is available on the health department’s website, lucascountyhealth.com. City council amended the law last year to stagger compliance deadlines to June 30; June 30, 2019, and June 30, 2020 based on census tract.

Proponents of the law say the preventive inspections will reduce risk of lead poisoning for children living in those older rental properties. Lead poisoning can cause damage to a child's brain and nervous system, as well as slow growth and development. 

Bob Cole, managing attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, said the firm will work with tenants whose landlords miss the deadline to put their rent payments in escrow and provide other renter assistance. 

Toledo’s lead law has faced significant opposition from a group of vocal landlords and renters who called the law overreaching and onerous, particularly the requirement to use dust wipes to test for lead during inspections.

A lawsuit was filed last year by the Property Investors Network and landlord Cheryl Mack, arguing the health department doesn’t have legal authority to enforce a city law. 

The suit, filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, has not been resolved, and the lead law remains in effect.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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