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Poisoned houses in Ohio

Without enforcement, houses become serial poisoners

Ohio cities could treat lead poisoned houses like drug houses You've seen the headlines: "" and "." How do these drug board ups work so quickly? : "To be able to move forward with a nuisance abatement, [Zanesville Police Chief] Coury says they must prove that the house is in fact a 'nuisance,' to which they will go back and look at the history of the home for the past 12-24 months and show that call volume and severity has increased during that time span." and similar local laws define public nuisances broadly and provide local governments and citizens with legal remedies to quickly abate the nuisance. Back in the 1980s, during the war on drugs, cities rediscovered the power of nuisance law as a way to remove "drug houses" from neighborhoods. Turns out that nuisance abatement is actually a clumsy tool for dealing with drug selling because often drug dealers aren't prosecuted and just move elsewhere. Then, too, bystander tenants are involuntarily displaced without due process. But the drawbacks of using nuisance abatement for drug houses is what makes nuisance abatement a great solution for lead poisoned houses. Lead poisoned houses can't move away somewhere else and, if they are boarded up, they can't poison another child. Displaced tenants can often get relocation assistance from . For decades, lead poisoned houses have been lurking in plain sight with no outward sign that they were proven lead risks. Health Departments had a duty to placard the properties with warning signs and check on them once a year to make sure they were not occupied, but enforcement has been lax. Last year, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) started publishing the addresses of properties where owners had failed to remediate known hazards after two orders. Suddenly. Poisoned houses were placarded and, in some cities, Health Departments made referrals to city or county prosecutors. Prosecution is a cumbersome process. According to , "State law gives property owners 90 days to repair identified hazardsafter a risk assessment report is issued detailing results of the property inspection and required improvements. Property owners can apply for three, 90-day extensions. If those expire, the property is deemed noncompliant and orders to vacate are given. Within 14 days of that order, officials are to post signs on residences warning of the hazard and vacate warning." Still no compliance? Health department refers the non-compliance to the Law Department; owners are tracked down; cases are prepared and filed; hearings are held and motions are considered. Meanwhile the owner flips the property and the court process begins again.

Why not just get a nuisance injunction and board up the house until the owners can prove they have complied? Here's what RHINOs can do to stop the poisoning.

1. Review the list of lead poisoned homes in your community. You can find the ODH database *see right side bar for link.

2. Visit each property and identify the addresses that don't have placards and which may be occupied. Lauren Lindstrom has a good survey protocol.

3. Set up a meeting with your health department and law department to discuss bringing a nuisance abatement claim against the property owner. It never hurts to have an elected official's support.

The list of poisoned addresses grows every day. In the past 11 months the number of poisoned homes has jumped from 540 up to 711 as of today. Shutting down these lead poisoned houses is not rocket science, but does require citizen advocacy, legal assistance and some organizational capacity.

  Poisoned Houses in the News

October 27, 2017 
Columbus files lead-paint cases against 13 homes
    Dispatch reports "Columbus officials have filed 13 cases against property owners who have not removed lead paint from their properties even after Columbus Public Health officials ordered them to do so and marked the properties with warnings. All the properties are occupied, either by owners or renters. The city plans to file up to 50 cases, including vacant properties, Assistant City Attorney Shayla Favor said Thursday. Some of the orders have languished for six years."
       Until there's enforcement, voluntary compliance is a myth. 
       Step 1: Advocates can find a list of lead poisoned houses in their communities here.
       Step 2: Ask your local health department to enforce the lead remediation orders.

Task force to review Toledo health department's policies
"A series of Blade reports last month found the health department failed to check on about two dozen Toledo homes with orders to vacate because of untreated lead hazards while many families continued to live in them. Since then, the department has announced updated procedures to better enforce such vacate orders, and three property owners now face first-degree misdemeanor charges for allowing tenants to stay after vacate orders."

Mother of a poisoned child speaks out reports: " 'You would think the city is like 'I don't want children to be sick' and just look out. We should be looking out for each other, we're a community.' Instead, she said, the city puts efforts into things like doling out tickets to people who don't put out their trash cans properly. 'And you think if they're noticing this [proper trash disposal], of course they are taking all the action to make sure my family is safe but they're not...They are just like making quick bucks here or there for fines and it's not fair.'
Legal Aid lawyers say the suit was filed now, in part, because of the glacial pace at which the city was moving to address its failures in responding to a significant lead poisoning problem. And that, despite more than a year of attention to the issue, city health officials still were not following basic rules or the state laws in place to protect children once they are poisoned in homes, day cares or schools."

Toledo prosecutes landlords who rented lead poisoned houses after a vacate notice.
According to the Blade. "State law gives property owners 90 days to repair identified hazards after a risk assessment report is issued detailing results of the property inspection and required improvements. Property owners can apply for three, 90-day extensions. If those expire, the property is deemed noncompliant and orders to vacate are given. Within 14 days of that order, officials are to post signs on residences warning of the hazard and vacate warning. Mr. Howe said the property owners would be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. 'As a prosecutor, there is nothing more important than protecting children. They are our most vulnerable,” he said. Mr. Howe said the goal is to have the residents move to other safe homes or apartments. He said the renters were 
'surprised to learn and never notified' the homes had high lead levels."

Cleveland Legal Aid sues the City for Failure to Enforce Vacate Orders reports: "The city has, for more than six months, failed to protect a toddler it knew was harmed by lead hazards in her West Side rental home, according to the lawsuit, filed Thursday afternoon in the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals. But the case isn't about one child. It is about hundreds of children living in the city who are potentially affected by years of city inaction, attorneys say."

A more recent list of delinquent lead remediation orders includes XXX Cleveland properties which have been inviolation for more than 90 days, but never issued a vacate notice.
Asked about plans to prosecute the 39 delinquent Cleveland landlords, Health Director Merle Gordon told Cleveland Lead Safe Network that "a case has been prepared for each property."