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July 11, 2011

Q&A: A lead-paint primer for new (and accidental) landlords




The difficult housing market has turned a lot of homeowners into landlords by necessity. They can't sell, at least not for the price they require, but they still need to move on -- so they're renting out their former homes.

For these "accidental landlords," and really any new landlord with an older home in Baltimore, trying to figure out how to comply with lead-paint rules seems daunting. One reader has a whole host of questions, and I thought a number of you would love to know the answers, too.

Enter Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Baltimore. She kindly agreed to do a Q&A guest post, with input from other staffers at the nonprofit.

She has run the coalition for 18 years.


Take it away, Ruth Ann:


Question: How does one best go about the process of getting square with the Maryland Department of the Environment lead rules for renting? Do I test the place myself first? Call MDE first? Call an outside contractor first?

Answer: Educate yourself on the Maryland Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Law. Compliance with the law is mandatory for rental properties ("affected properties") constructed prior to 1950 and voluntary for rental properties constructed between 1950 and 1978.

The law requires that rental property owners register their property annually with MDE and pay a fee of $15 per property, distribute lead informational and tenants' rights pamphlets to tenants, and have the property inspected by an independent inspector at each tenant turnover to make sure their property meets the Maryland Risk Reduction Standard.

Contact a lead certified inspection company or contractor before conducting any work in the property. Call the National Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning at 800-370-5323 or the Maryland Department of the Environment at 800-776-2706 if you need rental property owner compliance assistance.

Q: How do I find lead-paint inspectors?

A: Visit the MDE Lead Poisoning Prevention Program website for a list of certified lead inspectors and contractors in your area.

Q: What's a reasonable cost for testing? And will they tell me what I need to do to pass, or just if I pass?

A: Properties must pass inspection to verify that the property meets the Maryland Risk Reduction Standard either through a lead dust inspection or a visual inspection. The most commonly used inspection method in Maryland is lead dust sampling, where the inspector will review the property to insure there is no deteriorating paint and then take multiple dust wipes in the property to verify that the lead dust levels are below Maryland clearance standards.

The cost will vary depending on the size of the house and the number of lead dust wipes collected. Call multiple certified inspectors and compare prices if you are concerned about price.

If the property passes the lead dust inspection or visual inspection, the inspector will issue you a lead inspection certificate. If the property fails inspection, the inspector will notify you which surfaces in the property failed lead dust inspection or where deteriorated paint was observed.

Note: Lead dust testing will be the required inspection standard for all affected rental properties in Maryland starting on 1/1/12.

Q: Do inspectors test only the windows, or do I have to worry about paint on the rock walls in the basement?

A: No, inspectors test more than just windows. The inspector may test the window well, window sill or the floor in any room in the home, so make sure all surfaces receive proper prevention cleaning. Use Maryland certified contractors who know how to use proper lead-safe work practices and proper clean-up procedures to reduce lead dust and debris. In order to pass inspection, an affected property must have no chipping, peeling or flaking paint on any surface in the rental dwelling unit that is used for living, sleeping, eating, cooking or sanitation.

Q: How much of a chore is it to find contractors who meet the lead-safe work rules for any improvement?

A: There are two certifications required of contractors who work in affected rental properties – certification as a Maryland lead contractor as well as an EPA Lead Safe Certified Firm. You can obtain a list of certified contractors in your area by visiting the MDE and EPA websites.

Q: Will I inevitably have to remove any original doorframes and windows?

A: It is not required under the law, but there are a number of benefits to replacing older wooden windows and doors including, among others, less ongoing maintenance, reduced lead hazards and improved energy efficiency in the home. There are available grant and loan programs through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development at 410-514-7530 and locally in some jurisdictions if you need financial assistance to complete lead hazard reduction work.

Q: Should I get certified before I start to look for a tenant, or wait until one is in place? It seems like doing it in advance is nice because there's less time pressure if you need to do work, but looking over the Department of the Environment website it also seems like that first tenant might trigger a re-certification requirement, in which case there's not much point.

A: The property must be inspected and certified prior to occupancy at each tenant turnover. You should have the property certified before offering it on the rental market because you want to be sure that the property is in compliance with the law and that you can deliver the property to the tenant on the agreed-upon date in the lease. If you wait until you have a lease, and then you fail the inspection, you may face additional problems.


Thanks, Ruth Ann!

Thoughts, questions, arguments? Comment away.

If you'd like to write a guest post -- either to share expertise or to share an interesting housing-related personal experience -- please drop me a line. Details here.

And if you've got questions you'd like to see a guest poster address on another subject, ask away right here.


What a hassle.

I don't think that the re-inspection should happen after each tenant, maybe like every 5 years or so. I think that MDE would seem more compliance from landlords if re-certification was leff often. I just completed this process my self for my rental property and it was a pain, but I do understand the necessity.

It might be a hassle, but consider the alternative. If a tenant alleges that his/her child was lead poisoned as a result of exposure to lead hazards present in your building, that hassle will pale in comparison to the lawsuits and insurance nightmares which are sure to follow. Nanny state, maybe, but a potential liability limiter as well.

Ms. Norton did not really answer the question about the basement walls. If a basement area is used for laundry and storage only, and the foundation walls have old paint, is it sufficient to vacuum thoroughly or do the walls need to be sealed and/or repainted to comply?

Also, the MDE does not recognize the EPA Lead Safe certification for contractors, which is absurd. A contractor must be certified by the EPA to do most types of remodeling or renovation work in any property with lead; however, only lead abatement contractors need to be certified by the MDE.

This all makes it sound much more complicated than it actually is, partly because two different issues are combined in the Q & A.
Between-tenant testing is one issue... if an area needs to be addressed and retested, it is not that much of a hastle. The registration and annual reporting is fairly simple. The cost of inspection for a typical 4bdrm balt townhouse is around $225 and reinspections can add another $50 or so. Unless the property is a real mess, its unlikely to have that much in the way of problems that are not fairly easily remedied if repainting has been regularly kept up over the years since lead paint was banned.

The other, and separate, issue relating to lead-safe contractors for improvements is something I haven't yet experienced since my property was already rennovated when I bought it.

doesn't the city also now require one to file as a rental property as well?

"Ms. Norton did not really answer the question about the basement walls. If a basement area is used for laundry and storage only, and the foundation walls have old paint, is it sufficient to vacuum thoroughly or do the walls need to be sealed and/or repainted to comply?"

I have exactly that situation in my rental unit - unfinished basement used for laundry and storage - and that area was also part of the inspection. I can't remember the exact reason, but we had a lot of peeling paint down there, so it was a huge job to remove it and re-paint to pass inspection. I also have a metal porch in the back, and the peeling paint on it had to be removed there as well, and it had to be re-painted. Basically, if you have peeling paint anywhere on your property, it will likely need to be removed to pass.

My advice to anyone getting ready to rent is to get the lead paint inspection process started early.

Thanks, AJ! That's helpful.

Herbert, anyone who owns a home in the city they don't occupy themselves must register with the city's housing agency:

Be ware of the inspection scams! I had a guy show up at my property, take my $300.....then proceed to tell me "he couldn't inspect the property due to flaking paint on the back balcony". Then he listed about 60 other things to fix. I called another inspector who told me exactly what to fix before he came out, then he did the inspection and cost me $225. Grateful to him. BEWARE before handing your good money over to these inspectors.

A friend of mine who did this was told that the basement paint thing could be remedied by putting a lock on the basement door and a clause in the lease saying that you used it for laundry and storage at your own risk (and telling folks not to lick the walls). Not sure how standard that is...

The best precautions are to examine your home for lead paint, lead paint chips, and to test your water for lead by a licensed laboratory. The EPA is made up of established an action stage for lead at 0.015 parts.

Nothing yet on lead in old bathtubs???
And yet that has been known for years:

And why doesn't the Coalition against Lead have an update on the recent Supreme Court rulings that found our Maryland lead law which limiited liability to $17,000 unconstitutional?? Obviously, lead poisoning costs the victim and the family a lot more than $17,000!

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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