What's my liability for previous tenants' potential lead exposure

8 Replies

Hi everyone.  I'm currently under contract for a house in Baltimore County.  It was built in 1955.  The current owner rented the house after she moved out but did NOT get it tested for lead and did NOT register the house with the county, both of which are against the law.  She had a family living there (presumably with kids but haven't gotten a straight answer on that yet).

My agent brought up the point that theoretically, if any of the kids that lived there have problems with lead, they can come after the property owner, which would be me.  It would be easy to prove that I was not the property owner at the time of the lead poisoning, but would I still be liable for any part of this?  I know I need to talk to an attorney but I wanted to be as educated as I can be before I do that.

Anyone have any insights to this?

Whether you're legally liable or not, I think you'd still run the risk of being sued and having to spend money to defend yourself.  Definitely a question for a lawyer, and I'd love to hear their opinion!

I spoke to the lawyer today and he said the chance would be small, but he can't tell me I couldn't be sued.  I could have the seller sign an indemnity agreement, or find the tenants and get them to sign a waiver or get them tested.  The Maryland Dep't of the Environment won't tell me anything.  Basically I can't get a straight answer from anyone and I keep getting bounced around.

You have zero liability, though anybody can be sued, however, any attorney suing wouldnt waste their time suing you. You didnt own the house when they resided there. 

In upstate NY we take it very seriously & I will not touch properties that are beyond any reasonable expense to remediate if not done & certified already. If we pick one up at auction we usually flip it to another investor & hold the note. Several years ago we had a fellow Landlord spend $100k in legal fees defending a LB suit. We recently had an agent fined $50k for neglecting to include the LB Brochures. Strangely enough the seller had a complete remediation done & certified BUT the buyers child was still positive for lead after 3 months of living in the home. I am sure the civil action will be expensive for all.

From what I read in the attached below you will need to be vigilant as negligence could be VERY expensive . 

https://www.peoples-law.org/lead-paint-law-rights-and-obligations-renters-and-property-owners

@Suzanne A.
Are you getting the house tested and inspected prior to purchase ? If there are issues with the test are you making them a condition of the sale to be fixed?

If you acquire the house and it is not in accordance with state requirements and your renting it then it would seem your also taking on liability.

I am not a lawyer.

@Chris Seveney and @Pat L. thank you for replying.  I intend to do everything to the letter of the law, and as part of the sales contract, we are doing the full lead inspection with X-ray fluorescence, and any remediation that needs to be done.  The seller has conceded to pay for it, since she knows she was negligent in not getting it done.  Not only that, but the selling agent is the one who got the tenants in there without any lead tests, disclosures, or registering the property with the county.  They could have been hit with some very large fines.

It sounds to me that although I would not be liable for any previous tenants' lead poisoning, I could still be sued by them since anyone can sue anyone for anything. 

All things considered, I think the risk would be small of this happening.  The lawyer suggested having the sellers sign an indemnity agreement, but I'm not sure they'd sign it, and also wouldn't stop anyone from suing me.

Be sure to get your county rental inspection from a licensed inspector and file that and the few other forms with the county.  Also, be sure to get a garbage pail with an attached top. They cost about 50-60 dollars.  If the lid falls of a garbage can and an inspector sees it in the county its a $300 dollar fine.

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