Q: When I recently went to sign my lease I was handed a lead brochure and asked to sign a receipt. What’s this all about?

A: Published by the Environmental Protection Department (EPA) this helpful brochure is titled “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home.” It was designed to comply with a federal law requiring lead information be given to anyone purchasing, renting or renovating housing that was built before 1978.

Why 1978? That was the year the federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in housing. Since lead paint was widely used for many years, the older the property the higher the lead paint potential. Years of accumulated paint, stretching back before the law took effect, often lurks in layers below the surface.

The reason you were handed the brochure was to comply with Title X, (the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act), a law passed by Congress in 1992. Because the law is federal, it applies to all states in the nation, and was put into effect in 1996.

Landlords are specifically required by Title X “to disclose known information on lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect.” Lease signing now includes a form, probably the one you signed, which was written by the federal government. The form includes a box for landlords to indicate if they have any pre-existing knowledge of lead-based paint in the rental. Providing details is required as well, if lead is known by the landlord to exist.

The law does not require rental property owners or sellers to have the property inspected or tested for lead, nor does it require them to remove lead-based paint. For buyers, the law allows 10 days to conduct lead testing if they desire, at their own expense. The buyer’s time limit can be extended if mutually agreeable.

As for the 16-page brochure, it is chock full of lead information everyone should know. For example, the brochure details how lead can enter the body from various sources, including during renovations that stir up lead. Paint chips, lead dust, and lead deposits can lead to lead poisoning in the body either by breathing or swallowing the lead. It also explains other sources of lead, including lead crystal and pottery, or even hobbies that use lead.

Lead exposure is particularly dangerous to children, since their bodies are growing rapidly and absorb more lead than adults. Young nervous systems are also more delicate and vulnerable. As a result, “One out of every 11 children in the United States has dangerous levels of lead in the bloodstream,” according to the brochure.

Children, especially young children, tend to put their hands in their mouths, and rarely wash their hands before eating. Since lead can be found in dust, soil, and paint chips, children are more likely to ingest lead, which is then absorbed into their bloodstream. Unfortunately, lead poisoning symptoms are often subtle.

If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their body may experience slowed growth, behavior or learning problems, hearing problems, or headaches. The most extreme cases involve damage to the nervous system and brain.

Prevention from lead exposure is important. Since children are most likely to be affected, the EPA suggests, “Wash children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often and regularly clean floors, window sills, and other surfaces to reduce potential exposure to lead”.

In adults, lead exposure can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive and nerve disorders, memory or concentration problems, and joint and muscle pain.

Fortunately, testing for lead in the body is easy and inexpensive. A simple blood test can detect lead poisoning, and establish levels of lead exposure. Treatments vary from changes in the diet to specialized medication. Extreme cases may require hospitalization.

As for lead on the property, common areas for deposits vary. Doors, windows and window frames, stairs, railings, and banisters are most suspect. Outside, porches and fences are often most vulnerable, plus weathering may infect the soil around the painted areas outside.

Housing not covered under federal law includes zero-bedroom units, such as lofts, studios or efficiencies. Also exempt are short-term leases, which last less than 100 days, such as vacation homes. Housing built after 1977 is exempt, since the paint was banned for residential use in 1978.

The law helps inform approximately 9 million renters annually. For more information, call the National Lead Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-424-LEAD. Online, visit the EPA for more information.

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