Lead Paint: What is the End Game?

6 Replies

Massachusetts needs an end game for its Lead Law. Officially, “the Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under six live.”

The law, as is true of most laws, certainly had the best intentions. The mass.gov website states the laws intention as thusly: “The Lead Law protects child's right to a lead-safe home.” I feel like everyone is on board with this mission.

However, we are now 37 years into the laws stated purpose and any and all construction or renovations since have been lead free. In Massachusetts, an overwhelming majority of houses were built pre-’78 but, I would assume, 37 years out lead free improvements have made their considerable mark on the landscape of child safety.

Is the problem solved? I would certainly doubt it. Sadly, I am sure families deal with this issue throughout the state and beyond. I have not researched current numbers of lead poisoning cases, not because I don't find the stats important but moreso because I now have kids of my own and I don't feel like going down that rabbit hole on my Saturday night. But I write this to ask the question: What’s the end game for this law?

Again from mass.gov: “The Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under six live.” and furthermore, “owners are responsible with complying with the law. This includes owners of rental property as well as owners living in their own single family home.” The removal process? Well, you know, this is Massachusetts after all, so the amount of licensed professionals that are required to be involved escalates quickly. If you had to guess as to wether or not this is an expensive or inexpensive process your guess would be.....?

Seeing as how it is illegal to descriminate against families, the stringent nature of these laws puts many landlords into a choice between adhering to the laws by diving head first into a cost prohibitive, cap-ex hell or trying to find their way around the laws thereby exposing themselves a litany of fines and possible jail time that I couldn't even begin to comprehend….you know, not to mention endangering the lives of children.

So What is the end game? If the risk today and into the future is as great as it is was in ’78 then by all means, let's continue on as we are now. But assuming these laws have been effective over the course of the last 37 years, then isn’t it reasonable to assume that within the next 20 or so years (an arbitrary number to be sure) won't we reach the point where this law is no longer necessary? Won't the remnants of lead paint eventually drop to a non-zero amount?

I would like to move toward an end date for this law (in the event that anyone cares). I don't mind if its 5 years or 30 years away, but we need to move towards a date when we can rest assured that that all families and their children are safe in their homes and relieve property owners of this financially burdensome law.

I'm going to bed.  Be Good. Be Well.

This is regulated by Federal Law, not just Massachusetts law. Resources for information about lead-based paint law include: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Consumer Protection Agency, and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Get the EPA booklets: "Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home" and "Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools." Since all of our residential rental properties pre-date 1978, we give all new tenants the first booklet. If we are renovating an occupied property, we give the tenant the second one as well. 

We also give all new tenants, regardless of the age of the building, the EPA booklet "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home". It is an excellent training tool that will help you reduce the chance of mold becoming a problem.

We invest in vintage homes. I took the RRP (renovation, repair, painting) training so I could become more knowledgable and effectively address this to keep our properties safe. http://cfpub.epa.gov/flpp/searchrrp_training.htm

The reason the law uses the date of 1978 is because lead-based paint supply was still in warehouses long after it was no longer being manufactured. We found lead-based paint in our properties that were built prior to 1950 (door jambs and window trim) but our homes built in 1950 and onward tested clean. Another hazard to be aware of is asbestos. We have that in some of our properties too (duct wrap and siding). 

As long as hazards are removed or properly contained, we can continue to enjoy our vintage homes and historic properties safely. As long as we have historic homes and buildings, we will have the need to address the issue of lead-based paint and asbestos. There are vintage and historic buildings worth keeping.

@Jon P. - your post states the law says to remove or cover the lead-paint hazard.  I am not familiar with MA law, but in NY where we operate, much of our housing inventory pre-dates 1978 and lead paint is a common issue.  By covering, I assume they refer to "encapsulation", which is essentially removing loose lead-based paint and covering/encapsulating with a latex based paint, using lead-safe work practices.  I have taken the RRP training and working lead safe is an added expense, but not necessarily cost prohibitive.  To grossly simplify it, it means containing the mess you make and cleaning up afterward.  RRP is a federal law, but several states and many more local municipalities have additional requirements.

I sense your frustration, but I question the need to put an end date to the law.  As you state, over a long period of time, it will become less of an issue simply as a result of the loss of older housing stock or eventual abatement of lead based paint hazards over an extended period of time.  As a result of those 2 factors, the law will become less burdensome all by itself.

I am not a huge proponent of lots of new laws to spend my money or complicate my business.  However, as a contractor/investor that comes into contact with lead paint on almost a daily basis, I also appreciate the need to make both workers as well as tenants/homeowners aware of the hazards.

I'm not trying to swing you to my way of thinking about this, just offering another point of view.  Personally, I highly doubt that even if every landlord spoke up to have the law changed there would be any change toward leniency.  I  also doubt that 30 years from now ALL lead paint will be gone, though I expect it will be less common.  This boils down to "choose your battles" and I don't think your battle can or will be won.

@Jon P you should've gone to bed earlier...

We have a multi under contract right now and we just had a quote for over $16,000 for lead abatement....ouch. But, I've found it increases the value of the property because a lot of government assistance programs require lead certs if tenants have children under 6 years of age. So having the apartments lead free enables you to get top dollar for rent. 

The problem is many landlords rent and sell properties by simply saying the existence of lead is unknown...but the fact is you can look up most properties right Here. It creates a gray area that endangers kids and new property owners that don't understand the law. 

I'm not sure about everyone else but unless the property has lead certs we have a lead inspection done on every property we have under contract during the inspection period and we use the findings to help our negotiations. 

The end game is no more sick children. There will NEVER be a repeal to the law or a lessening of the law. The laws are only going to get stricter. MA is considering changing the definition of lead poisoning from having a blood level of 10 or above to 5 or above, drastically increasing the statistic of kids with lead poisoning, which in turn would make people want stricter lead laws, which in turn would make the cost of my license and ongoing education go up, which in turn would make my rates go up, etc., etc., etc..

Here's a quick description of some of the terms. This is by no means a complete list of the lead laws, just a quick definition of some of the common terms you hear. 

1. "Covering" is just that; Covering. Putting paneling over it, putting sheetrock on top of the existing sheetrock that has lead paint on it, covering outside corners of walls with wood at least 4" back from the corner, putting new baseboard over old lead painted baseboard, etc.. This is a "low risk" method of deleading as there is no dust created.

2. Painting over the paint is called "making intact". This can only be done on certain surfaces and areas. You can not, for instance, paint a door jamb or window and think it's good enough. You can only "make intact" non-movable and non-mouthable surfaces such as flat walls, baseboards, ceilings, etc.. You can't paint an outside corner of a wall and think it's okay, that needs to be covered. This is a "moderate risk" method of deleading and there is dust created by scraping the old surface. 

3. "Capping" is leaving the lead painted baseboard in place (as long as the paint is intact and not loose or flaking) and putting a quarter round (or fancier) trim piece on top of the baseboard.  This needs to be done if the baseboard sticks out 1/2" or more. If the walls are already double sheetrocked (covered the old lead painted sheetrock), the baseboards are usually almost flush with the wall and capping is not necessary.

4. Completely gutting the room down to studs is a "high risk" method of deleading as there is a LOT of dust created. A "moderate risk deleader" can only remove a certain amount of wall surface per room before needing to be certified a "high risk deleader". The law was basically written so a moderate risk deleader can repair holes in the walls, but not gut the room. 

@Rob L. how many units are in the multi you have under contract?