Landlords and the Problem of Lead Paint!

The new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changes the thrust of lead law – from disclosure and response after poisoning has occurred to prevention. According to Rick Reibstein, a former EPA lawyer, ‘anyone hiring or participating in the management of someone who does such work (disturbs paint) should also understand that the new rule affects potential liabilities for lead poisoning or contamination, as it articulates an expectation that it is necessary to prevent the dispersal of lead dust’.

Lead poisoning is a serious landlord liability. Learn how to prevent lead poisoning and keep tenants safe. For additional information click here to go to Resources for Landlords section on this website. You will find forms and other helpful website links.

Bangor landlords and property managers can visit the section in this document Special Resources for Bangor Landlords for helpful information and free resources specifically available to rental property owners in Bangor.

image1How are Maine children poisoned by lead?

Half of all children poisoned by lead in Maine live in rental housing.
You want your buildings to be lead safe.
Lead dust is the most common form of lead that enters into a child’s body because:

  • Lead dust collects on surfaces where children put their hands and play with toys.
  • Children often put their hands and toys into their mouths.

Most of the poisonings that occur in rental property are due to paint in poor condition. If a child is poisoned on your rental property, you must pay for expensive abatement of the property and the expense of relocating the family.

When is a building at risk for lead?

If your building was built before 1950 it is very likely that it contains lead paint. Any building built before 1978 may have lead paint.

image2Lead dust from paint happens in three ways:

  1. Lack of maintenance
  2. Normal wear and tear.
  3. Scraping or sanding lead paint


Lead dust is preventable!

Paint in good repair is generally safe. Keeping paint in good shape (called essential maintenance) is the best way to prevent lead poisoning. Normal wear includes:

  • The friction of a wooden window being opened and closed.
  • Weathering, as happens with windows and exteriors from exposure to cold and wet conditions.
  • Impacts to the paint, such as closing a door, walking on a painted floor, hitting trim with a piece of furniture.

Proper maintenance, cleaning and lead dust testing at the time of unit turnover can help prevent lead poisoning.

Lead paint can create a lot of lead dust very quickly if it is disturbed by scraping, sanding, or grinding during renovation or repainting, follow lead safe work practices to prevent contaminating your apartment.

How to maintain older buildings to prevent lead poisoning:

Here are a few simple things you can do to maintain your property. Unit turnover is an excellent time to perform these steps because of easy access, no tenants, and less likelihood of poisoning children or adults.

Conduct a visual inspection

  • Inspect walls, window sills, stairways and painted floors for peeling or chipping paint. Be sure to check both interior and exterior painted surfaces.
  • Make sure windows and doors move easily. Window friction can be a major source of fine lead dust.
  • Check outside for bare soil, particularly close to the building, on walking paths or places where children play. Lead from exterior paint and prior use of leaded gasoline can build up in soil. Lead from soil can be carried into the building on clothes and shoes.

Carefully repair all damaged paint surfaces.

  • Cover the work area with durable protective sheeting (plastic or poly) to prevent the spread of lead and make cleanup easier.
  • Mist painted surfaces with water before sanding and scraping to avoid creating dust.
  • If using power sanders or grinders be sure to have a HEPA-filtered vacuum attached.
  • Do not use open flame or high heat to remove paint, these methods are not safe for you or your tenants.
  • Cover painted floors, particularly stair treads, to eliminate friction and potential dust from lead paint.
  • Consider replacing windows in poor condition, this will save energy be lead safe.
  • Plant grass and small shrubs or use crushed stone or mulch to cover bare soil.

Identify and address any underlying problems.

  • Take the time to fix moisture problems and water damage. This will be the best way to make the unit lead-safe for years to come.

Thoroughly clean the unit to remove any lead dust from repairs. Pick up large paint chips and visible dust with a wet paper towel.

  • Mist protective sheeting with water before folding it up and putting into a trash bag.
  • Use a HEPA vacuum, slowly vacuum all floors and windowsills, including corners and areas between floorboards.
  • Scrub window sills and floors with soap and water. This will be a more thorough way to remove lead dust than just wiping these areas. Be sure to use two buckets, one with clean soapy water, and the other to wring out your cleaning rag or mop. Once areas are cleaned with soap, repeat this process with clean water. Be sure to throw out any rags and sponges used in the clean up.
  • Flush all cleaning water down the toilet. Never use sinks, tubs or storm drains.
  • Put all trash from your work and cleanup into plastic trash bags. Seal all trash bags with tape before throwing them into a dumpster or disposing of them in the trash.

Provide Proper Information to Tenants

Responsibilities of a landlord or property manager: Before renting any property built before 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide a prospective tenant the booklet Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home (click for document)

If the building has been tested for lead, landlords must tell the prospective tenant the building has been tested and let them see the report.

Anytime you disturb ANY paint in a building built before 1978, state and federal law requires you to provide your tenants with a minimum of 30 days notice prior to starting any work that disturbs the paint and you must post a sign on the building doors stating what you plan to do AND send a written notice by certified mail to every unit in the building AND supply the below publication to each tenant. Renovate Right Document (click here for document)

Tenant rights:
Your tenant has the right to rent a unit that is reasonably safe and fit to live in. This is called the "Warranty of Habitability" and can be found in a publication called the ‘Maine Attorney Generals Tenant’s Rights’. One way to help minimize landlord risk is to require your tenant to notify you when they observe paint problems.

Encourage your tenants to:

  • Use wet cleaning methods once a week.
  • Notify the landlord of any chipping or damaged paint.
  • If you are working in an occupied unit, ask the tenant to: remove kid’s toys and furniture from the room; move other furniture at least five feet away from the work area; and be sure to provide plastic sheeting to cover furniture and belongings.