It used to be easy for people in Maryland concerned about whether a property was free of lead paint hazards to look up whether it was registered with the state, as required by law.
Just type the address into the online Lead Rental Registry search box on the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) website and up would come the results.
But the search tool is missing from the website – and longtime Baltimore tenant advocate Carol Ott has vented her frustration about it on Twitter.
“I’d really like to know where the lead registry went,” wrote Ott, tenant advocacy director for Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland/MD Consumer Rights Coalition.
“Tenants used to be able to search by address and see if the property’s registry entry was current. Where did it go?” said Ott, who noticed its absence recently.
Responding to Ott’s posting yesterday, others chimed in online to say they use the tool too and wondered where it was.
But clicking that now leads to a registration page for property owners who are asked to type in their tracking number and password.
The hazards of long-term exposure to lead from chipping flaking paint, especially to children, are well-known. Lead can affect the brain, causing learning disabilities and behavior problems. Lead can also affect the blood, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
Speaking to The Brew, Ott said the information gleaned from the registry is important not just to reporters, researchers, attorneys and advocates, but to parents.
“In order to find whether a home is lead-safe, a parent needs to trust the lead inspection certificate they’re given by a landlord is real and accurate,” Ott said.
“Being able to search to find out whether a property is at least on the registry is a critical first step to finding out whether the property is safe,” she continued.
The Brew reached out to MDE yesterday but has not yet received a reply. (We also asked why the annual reports of Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance posted online stop after 2019.)
Another Baltimore housing advocate, Caitlin Goldblatt, took to social media to ask MDE what happened to the lead registry.
“Please email email@example.com and we’ll get this issue addressed for you” was the answer yesterday from @MDEnvironment.
Goldblatt has not, as of this morning, received a reply.
UPDATE: MDE Database Back on Line
UPDATE#1: MDE spokesman Jay Apperson emailed The Brew late today (10/22/21) with these responses to our questions:
“The searchable database of addresses was not working properly. We are working to fix that problem and to restore access to the database from our website. The database was moved to an updated server. The public search link was expected to work but it did not. Again, we are working to fix that problem and to restore access to the database from our website.”
In regards to the annual reports, Apperson said the page we pointed to “does not indicate the state has stopped producing annual reports on Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance.”
“It is up-to-date to the most recently issued annual report for calendar year 2019, issued in October 2020. The annual report for calendar year 2020 is in the works.”
UPDATE #2: Apperson reports that the searchable database is back online here:
From this page, it is reachable through the link in the upper left: Rental Registry Property Search.
Although the registry and any recent surveillance reports appear to be missing, MDE’s website does list the legal requirements for property owners:
• Residential rental properties built before 1978 are required to be registered and then renewed annually with MDE.
• Residential rental properties built after 1977 and properties that have a passing Lead Free inspection certificate are exempt.
• All properties built prior to 1978 must have a new lead inspection certificate at each change of occupancy.
State law also requires MDE to comply with disclosure requirements.
The agency must disclose, upon request, whether an owner has registered a particular property and whether an owner has met the 50% and 100% compliance requirements.
Using the registry has helped Ott in the past to find important information to assist her clients and identify problem landlords.
In 2019, for instance, Ott was able to use the search tool to check a set or properties she had already flagged as potentially problematic.
“Of 30 rental property inquiries total for Baltimore City, nine had an active MDE lead registry entry, 16 never had an MDE entry at all and five were removed from the registry,” she wrote in notes at the time.
To test the availability of lead registry information for the public, The Brew called the number listed on MDE’s Lead Poisoning Prevention page yesterday and asked if there was a place online to look up an address for lead issues.
The person who answered the phone at the number said it could not be done online, but offered to transfer the call to an inspector who “maybe could look it up for you.”