BALTIMORE — A year after Tiffany Bennett moved into a two-story red brick house at 524 Loudon Avenue here, she received alarming news.
Two children, both younger than 6, for whom Ms. Bennett was guardian, were found to have dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Lead paint throughout the nearly 100-year-old home had poisoned them.
Who was responsible for the dangerous conditions in the home?
Baltimore health officials say it was an out-of-state investment company that entered into a rent-to-own lease with the unemployed Ms. Bennett to take the home in 2014 “as is” — chipping, peeling lead paint and all.
Ms. Bennett, 46, and the children moved out, but they should never have been in the house at all. City officials had declared the house “unfit for human habitation” in 2013.
Throughout the country, tens of thousands of rundown homes have been scooped up by investment companies that have offered high-interest financing or rent-to-own deals largely to poor people. Many of these homes were foreclosed on during the housing crisis.
These investors, however, often put no money toward renovation, or for fixing lead paint problems. The low-income buyers and renters are forced to make all repairs. When there are serious problems with the homes, victims can be required to sign confidentiality agreements to keep them quiet in a settlement after they have been compensated, as happened in Ms. Bennett’s case.
As a result, seller-financed housing contracts have aggravated a persistent problem of lead poisoning among young children in this country.
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