Even Romans learned about the hazards of lead from their make-up and water pipes centuries ago. For years real estate disclosures on lead have increased. These efforts have been trying to ensure the most vulnerable, children under six years of age and pregnant women, avoid exposure to lead, which impacts childhood development and the nervous system. Following a lawsuit that insisted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforce lead standards based on science rather than what is feasible, the EPA proposed going from a level of 10 micrograms per square foot of dust to ZERO lead dust allowed this week. This impacts over 30 million homes built before 1978 when lead was banned from paint and many of these are located in New England.
Landlords of older buildings, which often offer the most affordable rental options in New England, may have an expensive abatement for their old Victorian homes. Advocates of removing lead from housing argue remediation is a one-time cost, but there have been generations potentially impacted growing up in older homes. While the EPA has gradually become more stringent, the time is coming for landlords to consider the new standards that will take effect likely in 2025. Currently there is a 60 day public comment period on EPA-HQ-OPPT-2023-0231 and then there will likely be months of analysis before the final rule change.
Many advocates are glad to see the standards try to focus on the causes of lead poisoning instead of the resulting toxin levels in children. Dr. Philip Landrigan notes that using blood level tests in young children involved in the WIC(Women Infants and Children) food voucher programs to trigger action is "basically using the children as canaries in the mine". With the EPA changes, standards will be set to focus on potential sources of the lead, instead of measuring the level of lead poisoning in children with lower socioeconomic status. A challenge for protecting people from exposure is that lead occurs in the environment, old toys and water systems that had lead solder before 1986. More concerning, the FDA does not regulate lead in spices and spices are considered the second leading source of lead exposure.
It may be difficult to prove zero lead levels have been achieved because testing reports after remediation typically have a margin of error and there is some in the soil as well. In addition, finding experts in lead remodeling is often challenging and they are in demand already. It's not just owners of antique homes that are impacted, this change will apply to schools and daycare centers that often times have age challenges as well. Some lead paint advocacy groups are not fully satisfied with the proposal because the DLHS (dust-lead hazard standard) will be zero, but the DLCL (dust-lead clearance levels) will be 3 micrograms per square foot to trigger action. These two measures for assessment and screening have historically always been the same number.
Landlords, stay informed of the lead paint issue and note when the final recommendation goes into effect, because the lead hazard standard will likely become more stringent over time. Requirements for lead removal and penalties are likely to increase as well. It is unknown if funds will be available for remediation, most seem reserved to replace the water pipe infrastructure with lead welds. Homes that are inspected and found to have any level of lead will be classified as a lead hazard under the proposal.
With the increase in rental rates and value of homes, if a landlord doesn't have the tens of thousands for a typical remediation, it may be time to divest of the older homes and 1031 exchange to one that is built after 1978. At Admiral Property, we're happy to help those looking to sell or get a property manager to assist with the remediation process.