I was having a rather lively discussion with @councilmancole on Twitter regarding the legalities of this idea — feel free to chime in with your own comments.
One of the problems with high-dollar lead paint settlements is the collection of the money. As Councilman Cole pointed out, many of these slumlord-owned properties are technically owned by shell LLC companies with no assets. However, the Maryland Department of the Environment has successfully gone after these companies and their controlling partners, and has levied fines against them — sometimes very steep fines, as in the case of Stanley Rochkind. Rochkind has also been sued hundreds of times in Baltimore City for his negligence, allowing families to live in lead-paint filled homes.
How to collect these judgments? That seems to be the problem, as I said before. And here’s a potential solution — it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it could be a step in the right direction.
Let’s say John Jones and his mother move into Landlord X’s lead-paint filled home, and John Jones and his mother sue. Instead of a monetary settlement, they could have this option:
Landlord X would have to pay to rehab the house, removing all of the lead paint and other health/safety hazards. After the work is done (work that is subject to permits, inspections, etc), Landlord X would then have to deed the home to John Jones and agree to pay the property taxes on the home until John Jones dies or decides to sell. A predetermined amount of money would also be set aside for maintenance and repairs on the home.
This could benefit the victims of lead paint poisoning in a few ways:
They would never have to worry about having a place to live, would never have to worry about the taxes, and they would have a presumably appreciable asset — despite the current bleak outlook, the housing market will improve one day.
If John Jones is a minor at the time of the lawsuit, the home could be deeded to a revocable trust that would be managed by an objective third party — a law firm, perhaps. When John Jones reaches XX age (with XX to be determined by the court), the home would be his.
Like I said, there are some kinks that need to be worked out — but I think it’s a viable option. It provides the victims with some modicum of recompense, and also gets the property out of the hands of a slumlord, and into the hands of someone deserving.
In case you were wondering — yes, the same restitution model would apply even if the City was the one responsible for the lead paint poisoning.