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Frugal Homeowner®



Rental Owner Must Comply with New Lead-Based Paint Rules

QUESTION:  I own a four-plex that was built in 1970 and I plan to do some updating on it this summer.  A contractor friend asked if I was aware of the new EPA rules regarding lead-based paint.  I told him I was, but I bet him lunch that it only applied to contractors, not owners.  Which one of us is correct?---JD

ANSWER:  Reach for your wallet because your contractor friend is correct. In 2008 the EPA adopted the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Program Rule with certain requirements of that rule becoming effective April 22, 2010. Not only contractors, but owners, and managers of pre-1978 housing need to be aware of the changes regarding lead-based paint.

The new rules apply to residential houses, apartments, and child-occupied facilities such as schools and day-care centers that were built prior to 1978. Excluded are housing built after 1978, housing for the elderly or disabled as long as children do not reside there, and "zero-bedroom" dwellings such as studio apartments.

Since lead-based paint is particularly dangerous to children, the new rules focus on activities that disturb paint in pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities.  The rules kick in any time you disturb 6 square feet or more of paint per inside room, or 20 square feet or more of exterior paint.  This could include activities such as remodeling and repair work, painting, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, or window replacement.

Here’s where your friend’s free lunch comes in.  The new lead-based paint laws apply to contractors, property managers, and others who perform renovations for compensation.  So if you were disturbing lead-based paint surfaces in updating your own home, you would not be required to comply with the guidelines.  However, since you own the four-plex and the EPA views “the receipt of rent payments or salaries derived from rent payments (as in property management operations) as compensation”, you must comply with the new rules.

The process of performing the work under the new lead-based paint rules is threefold.  First, the EPA’s pamphlet, “Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families” must be provided to occupants of the property, or the owner of the building or an adult representative in the case of child-occupied facilities such as daycare operations. Information signs regarding the date, location, and nature of the renovations also need to be placed on the property.

Second and perhaps impactful to the updating you plan to do, firms must be trained and renovators certified.  Unless you receive the proper certification training (an eight-hour course by an accredited provider) you may be precluded from doing your own remodeling.  Additionally, the rules require renovators to keep all records of the remodeling for a minimum of three years.   

Lastly, the new lead-based paint guidelines include rules for containing dust and debris and providing for its proper disposal. 

If you do decide to hire a renovator, you can contract in writing to waive the requirements that the renovator comply with EPA rules, provided that no children under age six or pregnant women reside on the property.   

Should you decide to take a chance and shun the new rules during the update of your four-plex, be advised of the potentially steep consequences:  Penalties up to $32,500 per day, per violation could be levied by the EPA.  And that translates into one heck of a lot of free lunches.


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