New York Times: Sellers Putting More People in Lead-Tainted Homes
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 a result, seller-financed housing contracts have aggravated a persistent problem of lead poisoning among young children in this country. Seller-financed deals, which include contracts for deed and rent-to-own leases, are loaded with risk. They lack basic consumer protections, and residents can be easily evicted since the title to a home is not transferred until the final payment is made.
Poor families that buy or rent one of these rundown homes often find themselves with another problem: Because they do not technically own their house, they are ineligible for any state or local grants to help defray the cost of removing lead paint.
About 535,000 children a year nationwide test positive for lead in their blood, which can cause brain damage and other developmental delays. Problems with lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., put the issue on the map. Yet exposure to lead paint in aging and poorly maintained homes remains the biggest source of poisoning.
It is not known how many homes nationwide are in seller-financed contracts, and not every state requires that such contracts be recorded. Still, health officials say they are increasingly seeing a connection between homes that are in seller-financed contracts and lead-poisoning cases.
“Unfortunately they have this contract which removes the actual owner of the home from the liabilities of fixing the home and requires these people who have no money to fix their own home,” said Dr. Jennifer Lowry, Chief of Toxicology at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.
Dr. Lowry said she had seen an increase in patients with lead poisoning who live in homes bought through a seller-financed contract on both the Missouri and Kansas sides of the city.
“What I care about is this kid who has elevated blood levels and yet I can’t get anybody to fix the home,” she said.
Dr. Lowry says that many of the families she works with do not speak English and thought they were buying a house outright. She was one of several housing officials and doctors who discussed the problems caused by seller-financed deals at a recent conference on childhood lead poisoning in Washington.
Read the full story via the New York Times.