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Cleveland to prosecute landlords who have failed to make properties lead-safe

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb speaks at a podium during a press conference inside the lobby of the Cleveland Department of Public Health on Sept. 20, 2023.
Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said the city aims to send a strong message to landlords who fail to follow the city's lead-safe law.

The city of Cleveland is sending a message to landlords —especially those from out of state — who have violated a law requiring rental homes to be certified as lead-safe.

During a press conference Wednesday, city leaders announced charges against 50 landlords who they said ignored lead hazard control orders mandating them to make improvements to their properties. These 50 owners ignored orders to make fixes ranging from replacing windows to covering old paint in homes where children were exposed.

“We have a long way to go, but I think we're sending a strong message that we are going to be proactive and break down the silos to make sure we hold people accountable," Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said.

The city has ramped up code enforcement with the hiring of Chief of Code Enforcement Dave Roberts and a team of eight assistant prosecutors, Bibb said.

Defendants will be appearing in housing court before Judge W. Moná Scott, who is expected to order those who are found guilty to make the necessary lead-safe upgrades to their properties, Roberts said. Failure to do so could result in jail time or fines totaling $1,000 per count for people and $5,000 per count for limited liability companies, he said. Each defendant currently faces at least 75 counts.

Of the 50 charged, only two own multiple properties, Roberts said, adding that about 20 are limited liability companies. Many of the defendants are from out of state, according to Cleveland's Director of Public Health Dr. Dave Margolius.

Earlier this week the city announced the Residents First housing reform agenda, aimed at protecting renters and improving neighborhoods. The package of ordinance overhauls includes revisions to the city's rental registration process and a "local agent in charge" requirement that would mandate the agent legally responsible for a property's physical and financial condition be a real person located in Cuyahoga County.

The package also includes a new vacant property registry and new tools to address nuisance properties, according to the city's website.

Siding on a Cleveland home shows old, peeled white paint.
City of Cleveland
The city of Cleveland says funding is available to home owners who need to make upgrades to their properties to make them lead-safe.

“We now have a robust housing package to hold these predatory out-of-state landlords and investors accountable," Bibb said.

Funding is available to property owners to fix their homes, said Cleveland's Director of Building and Housing Sally Martin O’Toole. The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition has a $100 million fund to help residents make their homes lead-safe. and the city's Housing and Urban Development Department has money to help people remediate lead hazard control properties, she said.

"While we don't see a lot of remediation on those homes that we've had to file a case for, these people haven't come forward, there's money to help them," O'Toole said. "We certainly want to leave them with these resources."

Cleveland passed the lead-safe law in 2019 and all rentals built before 1978 had to be certified with the city as lead-safe by March 2023.

Cleveland's health department sees over 200 cases of severe lead poisoning in children each year, according to Margolius. It can take years for those kids to recover from the damage — if they ever do, he said.

Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.