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Absentee landlords could slow down lead pipe replacements, state Senate bill aims to help

The state Senate bill would require landlords to enroll in a program to replace the lead pipes they own through their water utility or be forced to pay for it themselves.
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The state Senate bill would require landlords to enroll in a program to replace the lead pipes they own through their water utility or be forced to pay for it themselves.

A state Senate bill, SB 5, aims to force absentee landlords to replace lead drinking water pipes in apartments and other multi-family housing.

Kids exposed to lead can have trouble learning, behavioral issues and poor kidney function. It can also cause high blood pressure, kidney failure and anemia in adults and seniors.

The bill would require landlords to enroll in a program to replace the lead pipes they own through their water utility or be forced to pay for it themselves. The federal government and the Indiana Finance Authority have made funding available to Indiana drinking water utilities to help offset the cost of replacing lead pipes to their customers.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a deadline of 10 years for water utilities to replace all their lead pipes.

READ MORE: EPA wants all lead drinking water pipes removed in 10 years. Can Indiana utilities do it?

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the director of the Greater Indianapolis Multifaith Alliance. He said failing to replace lead pipes is one more harm absentee landlords have inflicted on Indiana residents — in addition to evictions and other unfit living conditions.

“As one utility representative said to me recently, 'We can’t replace the lines because we can’t find the owners.' So once again, out-of-state bad acting landlords are harming Hoosiers," Spiegel said.

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Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) voted in favor of the bill but said, right now, it's missing some teeth.

“There isn’t recourse if [landlords] don’t replace it within the 45 days, so that’s something I do want us to also be mindful of," she said.

The bill would also allow water utilities to disconnect service to "abandoned or unserviceable" properties — but consumer advocates through the Citizens Action Coalition are concerned that the current bill doesn’t define what those terms mean.

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate Utilities Committee and now heads to the Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.