Cephus Murrell owned 175 rental units, all built before lead paint was banned for its dangers, especially to children. Since 1974, he has been issued more than 20 violation notices and compliance orders. More alarming is that a city Health Department inspector testified at his sentencing hearing that children in at least 11 of Murrell’s properties have tested positive for lead poisoning over the last 30 years.
The jail sentence was imposed for three misdemeanor violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Murrell pleaded guilty to the charges, including failing to notify tenants of lead-based paint hazards, potentially exposing children to lead dust by conducting an abatement while they were present, and falsely certifying that abatement work was being properly supervised.
Under Title X, or the Residential Lead-Based paint Hazard Reduction Act, landlords are required to disclose any known lead-based paint or hazards in their rental property before signing or renewing a lease with a tenant.
Under a federal plea from last year, Murrell was required to obtain certificates of reduced lead-based paint risks at 60 properties. To date, he has submitted only 11 certificates, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The judge also ordered Murrell to get out of the rental housing business. His attorney indicated that he had turned over his properties to a trustee after filing for bankruptcy in March.
The law was enacted in 1992 to reduce the health threats of lead-based paint to adults and children. When lead-based paint peels, chips or is sanded, it can lead to lead poisoning, which affects nearly every system in the body. Infants and young children are particularly susceptible. Lead poisoning can lead to behavior problems, impaired growth and reading and learning problems. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 250,000 U.S. children ages one through five have elevated blood lead levels.
It’s a landlord’s responsibility to follow the law, notify tenants of hazards, and take care of lead-based paint issues. So many children are affected for life by negligence like that shown in this case.