Kalamazoo Homeowner Wins $115,000 After Lead-Paint Scare

Crawford Johnson home, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Crawford Johnson home, Kalamazoo, Mich.

A family in Kalamazoo, Mich., that bought a home from that city for only $3,200 -- ended up getting $115,000 in return when the fixer-upper turned out to be potentially toxic. The 1,800-square-foot home (pictured above) was a tax foreclosure that the city of Kalamazoo sold to Brandi Crawford Johnson, her husband, Adrian Johnson, and their 8-year-old son. But city officials didn't warn them of the hazard that the home posed before the family bought it: The house was found by a contractor to be caked in layers of lead-based paint, the Michigan news site MLive.com reported.

Lead has been called the "number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States" by the Environmental Protection Agency. High levels of lead exposure can lead to convulsions, coma and death, and lower levels can have harmful effects on almost every system in the body. It is particularly harmful to children because lead can severely damage their physical and mental development. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead in household paints in 1977, but homes built prior to 1978 may still contain lead-based paint. The home that the Johnson family bought is 110 years old.

Layers of lead paint on siding of Crawford Johnson home
Layers of lead paint on siding of Crawford Johnson home

It wasn't until earlier this year -- after the family purchased the house -- that the city notified them of its failure to provide information related to the possibility of lead-based paint in the home. The U.S. government requires and explicitly states that sellers and landlords must disclose any knowledge or risk of lead-based paint in homes built prior to 1978 before a contract with a buyer is signed.

The family's contractor, Mike Fehler of Midwest Training & Environmental Services, told MLive that the exterior siding of their house (pictured above left) could be coated in as many as 10 layers of lead-based paint. Other parts of the home also tested positive for lead, including the dining room floor, kitchen, windows and soil on the property. "This is a huge job, a very, very huge job," Fehler said.

"I've always wanted to live in the city since I was a little girl," Crawford Johnson told MLive.com. "I always wanted to have one of those big porches to look out of since I was a little girl. I believe that God intended for me to buy this house." She said that her family already had spent $25,000 renovating the place and had hoped to rehab the home and help restore the neighborhood. "We knew we were going to get windows and we had planned on getting a lot of stuff done to this house," she said.

Crawford Johnson filed a lawsuit against the city of Kalamazoo after the discovery of lead-based paint in the home. The city recently approved a $115,000 settlement in the case, acknowledging that officials failed to provide appropriate documentation about possible lead in the home. However, the city said that it did not know that lead actually existed on the property, and it was not required to test for it before selling the property.

Crawford Johnson told MLive that the settlement money is already spent: $75,000 to $80,000 for removing the lead from the property, $15,000 for attorney's fees, $5,000 for savings and the remainder for renovating the house and paying for temporary shelter. "It was a huge, huge stressful situation," she added. "It's not like I'm getting rich off the city by any means."

If you're concerned about the presence of lead-based paint in your home, the EPA has tips on how to reduce lead exposure. And for the safety of children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on how to prevent lead poisoning in young children.