Providing a safe, habitable home is a key objective for landlords. One of the most important exposures to protect tenants against is lead-based paint. For landlords in some areas of the United States, particularly in older buildings, it’s important to understand the risks of lead-based paint and how you can protect yourself and your tenants from harmful exposure.

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What is lead-based paint, and when was it banned?

Lead-based paint has long been used in the United States historically due to its durability. Although lead poisoning has been cited as far back as the early 20th century, it wasn’t until 1971 that lead-based paint was banned from use in residential housing projects by Congress. In 1978, the consumer product safety commission and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced regulations toward lead abatement, testing, and more.

The general definition of lead-based paint is a paint solution containing at least 1 milligram per square centimeter of lead or 0.5% by weight. This is the general guideline for enforcing regulations toward activities involving lead-based paint, including lead abatement, and the EPA says that the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule applies when such paint or surface coating exists.

When lead-based paint can be dangerous

Lead-based paint is a common hazard that can cause lead poisoning. According to the Mayo Clinic, children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, and they may experience developmental delays, learning difficulties, weight loss, fatigue, seizures, and other serious symptoms. Adults can also experience dangerous symptoms, and lead poisoning can be fatal.

Although lead-based paint can be found across the United States, it is most common in regions with older buildings. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that California and states in the Northeast and Midwest had the highest number of project-based rental assistance properties with buildings built before 1978 and therefore the highest exposure to lead paint hazards.

In residential homes, lead-based paint can become dangerous if it is disturbed during renovation, repair, or painting projects either conducted by contractors or homeowners. These activities can create hazardous lead-based dust which can be incredibly toxic to humans. Although some homeowners prefer to paint over lead-based paint with new, safer paint, it is only safe if the process is performed correctly and the lead paint is in good condition and is not peeling or deteriorating.

Unsafe renovations or repainting jobs carried out by homeowners are the primary risk factor for lead-based paint exposure. Activities such as dry sanding, scraping, removing paint by torching and burning and use of machine sanding without proper filtration is prohibited by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These activities have been proven to increase the chances of lead poisoning.

To combat domestic lead poisoning occurrences, the EPA introduced the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) regulation in 2008. This new regulation directed contractors to be certified and implement certain work practices to prevent lead exposure in the course of their work. Some of these practices include sealing off doorways and setting up HVAC ducts to control the flow of potentially hazardous dust.

lead based paint poisoning symptomps

Why should it be disclosed to renters?

A lead-based paint disclosure is an important set of documents that outlines a property’s history of exposure to lead-based paint. This can include a history of inspections, renovations, and other projects that may have disturbed lead-based paint.

Disclosing lead-based paint to your tenants is not only important for their safety but it is also required under federal law. According to the EPA, tenants must receive the following from their landlords before a lease is signed:

  • An EPA-approved information pamphlet on identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards.
  • Any known information concerning the presence of lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards in the home or building.
  • For multi-unit buildings, this requirement includes records and reports concerning common areas and other units when such information was obtained as a result of a building-wide evaluation.
  • An attachment to the contract, or language inserted in the contract, that includes a "Lead Warning Statement" and confirms that the landlord has complied with all notification requirements.
  • Incoming tenants may voice their concerns about potential lead-based paint exposures and request an inspection. The EPA can help you find a certified inspector to carry out the level of lead-based paint exposure your property is subject to.

When is a lead-based paint disclosure required?

A lead-based paint disclosure should be made if the home was constructed before 1978. Under the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Act of 1992, the EPA and HUD were required to develop regulations for lead-based paint exposures and developing rules around disclosures between landlords and tenants.

Often, a lead-based paint disclosure is made before the purchaser or lessee is obligated under a contract for sale or lease. This includes an FHA refinance. Generally, this means that a tenant should receive the required documents for a disclosure before a contract to purchase or lease is written.

Under federal law, a lead-based paint disclosure is required for the purchase or lease of a house. This includes all homes or properties built before 1978.

Failing to provide a lead-based paint disclosure to a tenant or purchaser can have stiff consequences. The landlord would be subject to prosecution under federal law, which could include up to a $200k fine and up to a year in prison. In addition, they would be subject to a special court assessment and any miscellaneous prosecution or probation charges.

Bottom line

Lead based paint is one of the most common exposures faced by homeowners and contractors. It is a common hazard for lead poisoning and can be avoided by taking the necessary steps when renovating, repairing or painting your property.

It’s important as a landlord to notify your tenants with a lead-based paint disclosure if your property was built before 1978. Having the necessary documents and inspections done before an obligation of sale or lease is important for protecting you as the landlord and your tenants from any financial or physical harm.

Have questions about other property and liability exposures for your multi-family property? Honeycomb specializes in providing robust, cost-effective and accessible property and liability insurance policies for landlords. Contact us for a quote.