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The Wheeler family had to leave their rental home after lead hazards that poisoned Sariyah Wheeler were not fixed. Despite help a Legal Aid attorney they ended up homeless. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

The City of Cleveland has begun prosecuting dozens of landlords for ignoring lead hazards that pose a risk of poisoning children. 

The city filed criminal charges in Cleveland Housing Court Tuesday against 50 landlords who failed to follow  previous city orders to clean up their properties. The action against the landlords marks the first time in recent years that the city has taken such legal action. 

Hundreds of  Cleveland properties were placed under what’s called a Lead Hazard Control Order (LHCO), which means a lead paint hazard was identified and, therefore, the home is unsafe for pregnant women and children.

David Roberts, the city’s chief of code enforcement, said 100 landlords have complied with the orders to avoid prosecution. 

In a news conference Wednesday morning, Mayor Justin Bibb and other officials said the city’s health, building and housing, and law departments worked together to target 48 property owners, including two with multiple homes, who had not  followed city orders. Twenty corporations or companies, many based out of state, are among those facing charges, including Hadad Investments LLC, the landlord who was recently fined $10,000 by a housing court judge for failing to clean up lead hazards in a rental property that poisoned a child

Last spring, Bibb promised to crack down on out-of-state landlords and unsafe rental homes. 

Once a hazard is identified, landlords are required to clean up the problem and have the property certified as safe to protect children from exposure to the toxic paint, which can cause irreversible damage to a child’s developing brain. The city filed 75 misdemeanor charges against each property owner. 

Officials said the city hired three new prosecutors last month to help prosecute landlords. Michael Glazer, an assistant director of law, is spearheading the effort. 

“This makes all the difference,” Bibb said. “Regular communication, a coordinated approach, and layers of enforcement to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks in terms of lead prosecution and lead enforcement.”

Under the city’s lead law, the property owners face misdemeanor charges for failing to comply. Individual landlords face a fine of $1,000 and up to 18 months in jail. Businesses face fines of up to $220,000. 

“It lets people know we’re serious,” a city spokesperson said about efforts to fine and prosecute landlords. 

The city also said it is aggressively working to enforce lead safe compliance and assist residents in making their properties safe. 

The city’s law department ramped up lead certification efforts and is requiring landlords to test their properties and show their rental homes are lead safe. If landlords do not cooperate, the city will take them to court. So far, compliance with the routine certifications has lagged. 

Hundreds of lead poisoning cases are referred to the city each year, said Dr. David Margolius, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health.  

City officials said they will continue to evaluate the lead safe law and make adjustments to increase the number of properties in compliance. 

The city also is trying to keep landlords from selling homes with lead hazards. One way the city is doing this is by filing paperwork with Cuyahoga County that flags for potential buyers a property with unaddressed hazards. The paperwork is an affidavit that will show up during a title search. As of Sept. 15, the city had filed 479 affidavits with the county on hazardous properties.

This article was updated to correct the number of charges filed by the city. The city filed 75 misdemeanor charges against each property owner, not 75 charges total.

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Health Reporter (she/her)
Candice, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a freelance writer whose reporting and digital media work have appeared in The Daily Beast, VICE, Cleveland Magazine and elsewhere. She has written about health, equity and social justice.