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Historic “Lead Safe” Legislation Passes In Cleveland: Legal Aid helps catalyze community change

Posted September 5, 2019
12:17 pm

On June 24, the City of Cleveland passed monumental lead safety legislation that mandates action to address the lead crisis in our city’s older homes. The new legislation requires landlords to secure lead-safe certificates for all of their occupied rental units starting March 1, 2021. This is a significant change from current practice, which requires action only after a child’s blood test shows elevated lead levels. The new requirement will be enforced on a roll-out schedule, and will extend city-wide by the end of 2023.

Legal Aid was invited by Cleveland City Council to provide counsel for the legislation process. In early 2019, we joined the newly formed Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, a group that includes city officials; members of local philanthropic, healthcare, environmental, and educational organizations; community leaders; and community members who have been impacted by lead. Legal Aid attorneys are leaders in the group, serving on several committees while guiding the coalition’s policy goals.

Lead poisoning has detrimental effects on cognition in children, and lead is pervasive in homes built before 1978. According to an Ohio Departmentof Health report from 2018, about 12 percent of city children under 6 who were screened for lead in 2016 and 2017 had dangerously high levels of the toxin in their blood. Though the new legislation is an important step and a significant achievement for Cleveland, there is still work to be done. Legal Aid remains committed to representing individuals who have suffered from lead in their homes, and we will also assist tenants who face retaliation when they demand their landlords comply with the new law. Earlier this year, a clinician at University Hospitals referred “Ashley” to Legal Aid after finding elevated lead levels in her one-year-old daughter’s blood. Despite a 90-day Control Order from the City of Cleveland and Ashley’s repeated efforts at communication, the property management company refused to act.

Ashley’s Legal Aid attorney helped her put rent money into escrow with Cleveland Municipal Housing Court. This compelled the company to attend a court-scheduled mediation, where a representative finally agreed to repair Ashley’s apartment. Three weeks later, Ashley’s family returned to a newly safe home.

Cleveland’s new legislation is the result of years of Legal Aid’s advocacy for the health of Cleveland’s children – including a suit filed against the City of Cleveland in 2017. When the legislation was introduced in June 2019, Councilmember Griffin specifically acknowledged Legal Aid’s impact on this important issue.

Legal Aid is grateful to the Mt. Sinai Foundation for their support of Legal Aid’s healthy housing advocacy work.

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