Get Certified or Get Out of Dodge: The EPA’s Lead Based Paint Renovation Guidelines

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I’ll bet that got your attention. It probably should say “Get certified or get out of dodge or… use a contractor that is certified”. If you aren’t doing this, you’d better hope you don’t get caught. ” So what am I referring to?

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The EPA’s Renovation Guidelines

Most seasoned real estate investors are well versed on these guidelines, but if you are new to this business you may not be aware of the rules you are required to follow. And where the EPA is concerned, ignorance doesn’t prevent you from getting those hefty fines they like to levy on folks rehabbing houses (or even doing smaller scale repairs or renovations).

Owners of companies that just have a few properties may think that they are exempt from these regulations or at the very least; they may feel some sort of “invisibility” just because they are small. But that just isn’t the case. Everyone is expected to comply with the rules and regulations that are in place.

The Rules of the Lead Based Paint Game

If you are repairing or renovating a pre-1978 structure, there are some things you have to do. For instance, if you have tenants in the property, you are required to provide those folks with a copy of EPA’s lead hazard information pamphlet “Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools”. You are also required to document that you have complied with this requirement.

There is a “pre-renovation disclosure form” that you can get from the EPA to use so that you start out on the right foot.

In 2010 the rules changed. Property owners that did these projects in rental homes built before 1978, were then required to be certified and to follow all of the lead safe work practices that are found in the EPA’s “Renovation, Repair and Remodeling Guidelines”. If you hire contractors it is your job to make sure they have the proper training and certification. Once again, “ignorance” won’t be allowed as an excuse. Take a few minutes before you hire any contractors to verify that they are certified. You can do this on the EPA website here or by calling the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD.

But I’m Only Doing a Small Project….

The short answer is “it doesn’t matter”. The rules must be followed when repairs or maintenance activities disturb more than 6 square feet of paint per room on the interior of a property, or more than 20 square feet of area on the exterior of the structure. 6 square feet is only an area 2’x3’ so even most small projects will fall within this scope.

To further clarify, renovation is defined as an activity that disturbs painted surfaces. This will include almost all remodeling, repairs and maintenance including window replacement. You can look online to see how some of the larger window companies have been made “examples of” by being hit with hefty fines by the EPA.

How Much Are the EPA Fines?

The fines can be up to $37,500, per incident, per day. So that’s a pretty strong motivation to comply.

What Exactly Should I Do About Lead Based Paint?

Has anyone had problems with the EPA’s Renovation Guidelines?  

Photo: Michael Kötter

About Author

Sharon Vornholt

Sharon has been investing in real estate since 1998. She owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. In January of 2008 she took the leap of closing her business to become a full time real estate investor.


  1. Steve Babiak on

    Anybody trained in the EPA RRP protocols recognizes that certain records are required. Record keeping is quite important, since the EPA will perform audits on selected contractors and they will be mainly looking at the records.

    Now, as to how the audit targets get selected, I believe mostly by somebody who snitched on the contractor to the EPA.

  2. What I would do is invest in a city like Philadelphia where they don’t enforce such laws.

    The EPA is bound and determined to bring the USA down to the third world level with these oppressive new rules.

    This new regulation (if enforced) is a great reason to allow the paint to peel and flake off a property, until the wood work is bare.

    • Dennis –

      I personally wouldn’t mess around with the EPA, but I there is no double that this one can be tough to enforce when it comes to the “masses”. I also agree with Steve that very often someone turns you in and that can be a lot harder to prevent. Thanks for your comments.


    • Steve Babiak on


      Philadelphia now requires that landlords do lead swipe testing prior to having any tenant with children I believe 6 years or younger. That is a special EPA certification above and beyond the RRP certification.

      I know of a contractor in the Philadelphia area who had an EPA audit at the end of last summer, so there’s no geographic advantage. The EPA isn’t sending out people looking for construction sites – they don’t have enough field staff for that; they are being told to go to certain sites based on reports from citizens nearby.

      Maybe you were being sarcastic …

  3. How do they audit the owner of a rental property? Say an investor purchases a rental with lead paint, does some minor repairs themselves (no EPA certs) and a fresh coat of paint. Lead inspector comes out and passes the property. Investor gets a tenant in and all is well… is there potential for EPA to check on this and find out the investor ‘took care’ of the lead paint issue without a license? How and why would they have chosen this property to audit?

  4. Brian –

    They would most likely not be checking your particular property unless someone got sick and filed a complaint. As a landlord, you are required by law to do the work according to the EPA guidlines I spoke about above.

    Regarding your statement, “Lead inspector comes out and passes the property”.

    I’m not sure anyone would pass a house build pre-1978 without doing a full blown lead inspection and landlords don’t typically do that when they buy a rental property; it’s expensive.

    You should have given your tenants the required lead paint brochure when they signed the lease though. That basically says be aware there is most likely lead paint in this house.


  5. If you read the EPA’s site on this they cannot effectively enforce this nationwide on the fed level so they give authority to the states to create workforces to implement the rules.

    So do not think it’s the Fed and they will not be able to look in this state, county, city. This is why they have local people who can enforce.
    The reality is to be on the safe side. Any potential savings of time and money you think you will get will be wiped out by massive fines later on.

    • Joel.

      I know that is the case here. The EPA fines are huge, and I personally wouldn’t take the chance. Besides, it’s not that hard to get certified. Anyone that is rehabbing even if they never plan to pick up a hammer themselves, should be informed about the rules and regulations. I’m like you; there is no way I would take the chance.


  6. If you purchase a property and do a rehab, then rent the property out, do you still need to comply? Or does thos only apply if there are tenants living in the property at the time of the possible disturbance of the lead paint?

  7. we know a window company that has stopped doing installs due to this. it has changed the cost of a window install from $50 up to $300 per window according to them (just labor!) — We did have a contractor who was certified do some work and gave us docs. so we give them to the tenants when they move in. We also live in a town where pretty much every building in the town was built before 1978.

    • Ken –

      You can get certified for a one day class and at most a couple hundred dollars. Even if you never install a window, you have knowledge that will make you safer and you will be able to negotiate better prices on those things like windows. I would suggest getting your own certification if you are going to be rehabbing at all.


  8. Sharon –

    The EPA Do-it-Yourselfer starts by saying this:

    “Although the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule does not apply to homeowners renovating, repairing, or painting their own homes, do-it-yourself projects can easily create dangerous lead dust. Protect your family and home – set up safely, control the dust, and clean up completely.”

    Sound like if I own a rent house and do the work myself, I’m OK without certification, and not subject to fine, right?

  9. Mark –

    The short answer is no.

    f you own a piece of income producing property that is not your primary residence that will have a tenant in it, you have to comply. That makes you a landlord.

    You know it’s pretty simple. You get certified, follow a few rules and buy a $20 jug of chemical to take care of the dust. Don’t take the chance no matter how small the project is that you will get caught. The neighbors of that house know it is a rental. It’s almost always someone that turns you in that get’s you caught with the EPA.


  10. It used to be a lot easier to make repairs on rental properties. Just grab a hammer and start working.

    Although it’s a little more complicated now, the new rules do protect the tenants from hazardous conditions, and that’s the most important consideration for the landlord/owner.

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