In the fight to improve
the conditions of substandard housing, legal remedies sometimes are needed
to complement enlightened policies and legislation by ensuring compliance
with the law. For example, HUD and EPA work with the Justice Department
to enforce the 1996 federal lead hazard disclosure rule, which requires
property owners to inform prospective tenants and/or buyers of known lead
hazards in properties built before 1978. In enforcing
the disclosure rule, these federal agencies often reach agreements
by which violators undertake lead poisoning prevention efforts, in addition
to paying fines for noncompliance.
Enforcement of local
health and housing codes can play a critical role in addressing
housing-related health hazards. Housing and building codes, for example,
typically contain provisions governing moisture, pests, and ventilation.
By factoring health considerations into inspections and enforcement actions,
code inspectors can significantly increase the identification and control
of health hazards and prevent the persistence of housing conditions that
pose health risks.
Legal action also may be needed to hold corporations or individuals
accountable for wrong-doing. For this reason, a growing number of governmental
entities as well as private individuals have filed suit
against lead pigment manufacturers to clean up hazards related
to lead-based paint in housing and other buildings and to recover the
public health costs of lead poisoning. The State of Rhode Island won its
case in February 2006. Counties in California and Texas; municipalities
including San Francisco, Oakland, and Milwaukee; school districts in California,
Mississippi, and Texas; and the New York City Housing Authority have also
filed or joined suits. Lead-poisoned children have also sued the lead
industry in a number of locales.
There are a number of resources
and organizations available that can help with a legal campaign.