MA Lead Paint Abatement - Options and Costs - HELP

5 Replies

My wife and I recently bought a large (3,000sf), unoccupied two family in northern Massachusetts. I'll round the numbers for the purpose of this discussion but basically we paid $440k for the property and have a planned reno budget of $100k. The actually reno will cost around $90k and we held on to the rest as a small contingency/change order fund. Given the location of the property and the town, it's a great property for tenants with young families. 

The property was constructed in 1906 so there's likely lead paint on at least one of the 3 floors of the building (although nothing has been officially tested). We're willing to spend a chunk of change to have the lead abated and get a lead cert just to avoid any gray area regarding tenants with young children. However, the costs we've been quoted seem very high. Having a hygienist come in and test is step one and that'll run us about $700. Then, assuming lead is detected, we need to have an abatement company come in. Once they abate any lead they find, they need to clean the ENTIRE building in order to provide a clean air cert. We've been told the abatement/cleaning will cost a minumum of $10k but likely closer to $25k. 

My question for anyone out there that has been in this position before is - what are our options? We want to be responsible landlords and see value in having a Delead Cert on file. It could've been an oversight on our part but we did not expect the deleading costs to be close to 25% of our total reno cost! It would be cheaper to replace all the doors/door jambs, window sills, etc rather than go with the deleading process described above. But according to the abatement contractors we've talked to, they cautioned us against demoing all the expected lead materials and installing new. The mentioned potential fines and told us even if we did demo/replace ourselves then we'd still need a lead test at the end of the reno to get a lead cert and if we missed even one spot they'd need to abate and clean the whole house, leading us back to square one. 

What're our legal options here? I mean, I know what the MA gov website recommends but is it actually common practice to spend that kind of money on every rental property you purchase that has lead in it? Any help, advice, resources, etc would be greatly appreciated. We spent over a year looking for this property and nailed the reno budget in every other aspect, but if we have to spend $25k on lead abatement then that will wipe out over a year's worth of CF....

How do you guys handle lead paint in your rentals?

Hey Tim, 

I'm currently in the process of becoming a licensed lead paint inspector in the state of Mass and am starting the last phase which is the apprenticeship.  I've gone through the required class trainings and have passed the state exam.  So I'm not 100% official yet, but I think I can get you pointed in the right direction.  There's a lot in your post and to cover on this topic, but I'll try to hit the major points.  FYI...I also own rental property in MA.  

Congrats on the purchase!

First step would be to look the property up on the MA Lead Paint Database (  This database keeps track of all properties that have been tested and abated.  It's always good to check on a property you're interested in to see if it has any history.  I'm going to assume that it doesn't and it has never been tested.  

Like you allude to, with the age of the housing stock in MA, it's more likely than not you'll find lead paint.  I'm not sure where you got some of your information, but some of it is right and some of it is leading you astray.  First...let's cover the law.  

In MA, property owners are REQUIRED to bring a property into a lead safe condition (called compliance) if a child under the age of 6 resides in the house/apartment.  If a child under 6 is poisoned in a property you own, you are 100% liable under MA law.  It's called strict liability and it's what gives the MA lead paint laws such big teeth.  We have the strictest lead paint laws in the country.  

Good news tho, the State of Mass just made a major revision to the lead paint laws that went into effect on Dec 1, 2017. One of the keys for landlords is that the new rules significantly lower the number of surfaces that have to be deleaded...which lowers the cost of abatement compared to the law pre-12/1/2017. 

As for your property, I don't know how a deleading contractor can give you a quote without an inspection report.  Only MA licensed lead paint inspectors can perform an initial inspection which will determine what, if any, lead hazards are present in the house.  The cost of this can vary quite a bit based on a number of factors, but especially if the property has older wooden windows (it can take a while to test all their components).  My guess, would be it'd cost between $750-1250 to do the initial inspection.  One thing you have going for you is the apartments are vacant which makes the testing a lot easier.  

After that, you can give the report to any deleading contractor and they should be able to give you a quote based on what's found.  It's really hard to come up with a cost because it really depends on what work needs to be done.  I had a single family I own done last summer and it cost me $1500 to scrape a bay window sill, an exterior door edge (on 3 sides), a threshold, and have 4 basement windows covered/wrapped.  Something to note is that not all work requires a deleading contractor.  Scraping and replacing windows (called high risk deleading) are examples of work that would require a deleading contractor.  Things like covering a wall with drywall if there's flaking lead paint is something a low or moderate risk authorized owner could do.  You just need to do some reading and/or a class plus some tests to get certified.  It depends on the hazards that are found but can save you some money.  The inspector can give you a lot of the options you have.  

The contractor you talked to is right when he says cleaning is a major part of the work they do.  To get a letter of compliance after deleading work is done, the lead paint inspector needs to come back and take dust wipes, which are sent to a lab to make sure there isn't high levels of lead paint dust left behind.  The main focus is rooms where work was done, but other rooms are also tested during this process.  After those dust wipes pass, you get your letter of full deleading compliance.  

You did get good advice on NOT doing the work yourself (if not authorized) or not having a properly authorized deleader do the work.  If the work is done as a deleading activity and not as regular renovation, an inspector is required to call this out on their report which can be flagged as "unauthorized deleading."  If the state deems the work to be unauthorized deleading, it can prevent the property from ever being able to get a letter of compliance.  Just be careful.  

Sorry...I know that's a lot of information, but there's a ton of topics to cover on this to make sure people get going in the right direction.  If the property is one that makes sense for families to rent, if I were you I'd really think about getting it tested and deleaded.  I know with the single fam that I own, it gave me a lot of piece of mind when getting it listed.  It also helps the value of your property.  

One last thing in terms of cost...MA does offer up to a $1500 tax credit per unit for work done towards deleading, so you'd be eligible for up to 3k in MA tax credits.  It's not going to take the biggest chunk out of the cost, but it's a little be that helps.  

Hope that helps Tim.  Feel free to fire back with other questions you might have. 


Hello Tom,

As a painting contractor and RRP certified for safe lead prep and with many old homes under our belt as well as a landlord of old homes I can say you are proceeding in the right direction.  On all our properties we have deleaded over the years to get the valuable certificate of compliance.

i on the other hand decided not to renew our license due to cost past to homeowers and my crews not wanting to perform these tasks.  The added cost for the homeowner was astronomical to perform the tasks correctly.  But on the other hand and it has been a few years since we had to delead an apartment inside and out we just went with the new windows as well as vinyl sided the exterior and practically gutted the interiors and replaced all the trim and doors.   The last exterior we prepped lead safe following RRP rules was in excess of 30k.

Thanks @Robert Loiselle for the advice. We'll bite the bullet and get it tested. Maybe it won't be as expensive as the ballpark #s we've been told. Thanks again! 

@Ron Ramsden I've been in construction most of my life and somehow I've never had to deal with de-leading. I'm very familiar with all other construction costs but when I started researching the cost to de-lead I couldn't believe it. It seems like the legislation is based around the goal of making the de-lead process easier which in theory will result in more de-leaded homes. However, the cost seems disproportionate to the overall project cost. Like I mentioned above, if this costs us $25k then that'll bust our budget by 25% (original budget $100k). It's on me for missing that in my budget, but my point is that it's nuts that  as an investor/landlord in MA, you have to incur a 25% cost for an activity that doesn't put any work into place. It's purely added scope. I'll still have to go in after and paint everything they abate. I'll definitely get it done but just a little surprised by this one. Live and learn I guess. 

@Tim Upton ...if you need an inspector, I have a great one that I'm training with.  Good guy and reasonably priced. 

How's the condition of the paint overall in the house?  Do you have vinyl replacement window?  These are the biggest items that drive up the cost of deleading. 

There are 4 defined types of lead hazards. 

1) Loose/flaking lead paint.  You can have lead paint present in the house and as long as it's don't have to abate it (Ex. all the ceilings have lead paint but are in good can leave those alone).

2) Accessible/Mouthable Surfaces.  These are window sills hand rails, and railing caps that are 5ft or lower from the floor or stairs.  These surfaces, if they contain lead need to be abated because they're surfaces that children can access or put their mouth on.  NOTE:  These surfaces can be encapsulated which can be cheaper in some instances versus sanding/scraping or replacing.

3) Moveable/Impact Parts.  This is basically windows.  Old wooden windows with lead paint on them generate a lot of dust when opened/closed.  These need to be removed if they have lead paint.  This can add up if you have a house full of them and they need to be done by a deleading contractor. 

4) Friction surfaces.  These are door edges, door jambs, and stair treads.  These surfaces are typically scraped but you could also replace them based on cost estimates. 

@Tim Upton I know this is late to the thread, but I am going through this now in my two family. I am only doing one unit as it is 4 bedrooms and has higher pool of applicants with young children. The inspection cost was $305 and I've received one quote for deleading for $900. I do, however, only have 2 attic bedrooms that have baseboard areas with lead paint, the back and entry staircase as well as some lead paint on the exterior of the building, so it is not a lot. After that is done a final inspection is required before receiving my certificate which I'm guessing costs the same as the inital inspection.

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