Breaking News (8/10/10): Two Local Real Estate Firms Fined By Mass. Attorney General For Lead Paint Housing Discrimination
My Boston.com fellow blogger, buyer’s agent Rona Fischman, has fielded several questions recently regarding the Massachusetts Lead Paint Law. Prospective renters have called apartment listings only to be hung up on abruptly with a “It’s not deleaded!” if they hear a child in the background or if they answer truthfully about having children. Mothers have received termination notices when the landlord discovers they are pregnant – usually of course for tenancies at will. Finally, there is a listing this week in a local paper for an owner occupied 2 family rental which states “Unit Not Deleaded” right in the ad.
The short answer is these are all likely violations of the Massachusetts Lead Paint Law, and could expose the offending landlords to stiff penalties and damages.
Under the Massachusetts Lead Paint Law, whenever a child under six years of age comes to live in a rental property, the property owner has a responsibility to discover whether there is any lead paint on the property and to de-lead to protect the young children living there. A property owner or real estate agent cannot get around the legal requirements to disclose information about known lead hazards simply by refusing to rent to families with young children. They also cannot refuse to renew the lease of a pregnant woman or a family with young children just because a property may contain lead hazards. And property owners cannot refuse to rent simply because they do not want to spend the money to de-lead the property. Any of these acts is a violation of the Lead Law, the Consumer Protection Act, and various Massachusetts anti-discrimination statutes that can have serious penalties for a property owner or real estate agent.
As the stories above show, landlords routinely flaunt, or are just plain ignorant of, the law. The issue becomes what to do about it and is it worth the time and aggravation? I guess that depends on your situation. Certainly, if you are being threatened with a discriminatory eviction, your first step should be to contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and your local Fair Housing Commission. In a recent case, the MCAD hit a property owner with $25,000 in damages and fines for evicting a young family to avoid de-leading. Next consider hiring a housing discrimination attorney. If you are low on funds, the attorney may agree to take the case on a contingency because violations of the lead paint law and discrimination laws provide for the reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and enhanced damages.
As for the “Unit Not Deleaded” ad, while may be truthful, it might as well read “Children Under 6 Not Wanted.” I would advise a landlord to avoid this sort of indirect discriminatory preference.
Lastly, the law is conflicting regarding owner occupied two family homes. Chapter 151B, the state anti-discrimination law, exempts owner occupied two family homes from the prohibition of discrimination against children. However, there is no such exemption written into the lead paint law. So if a child is born into a owner occupied 2 family, it must be de-leaded. Vacation/recreational rents and short term (31 days or less) rentals are also exempt from the lead paint law.
As always, contact me, Attorney Richard Vetstein with any questions.