Once used widely in homes, stores, offices, and most other buildings, lead-based paint was banned in the United States in 1978, due to health and safety concerns. Because of this history, tenants who reside in rental properties built before the ban may be at risk of lead exposure. We’ll discuss the legal responsibilities of landlords and property managers with regard to lead-based paint disclosures, so you can achieve compliance.
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When is a lead-based paint disclosure required?
If your rental property was built before 1978, then you are required to provide new tenants with a Lead Disclosure Statement prior to their move-in date (with some exemptions, discussed below). This disclosure is required regardless of whether you know for certain that lead-based paint is present on the property, and even if you have taken steps to replace it with non-toxic paint.
What must a lead paint disclosure include?
The disclosure form should summarize the federal law (the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992) that created the requirement, notifying the tenant that homes built prior to 1978 typically used lead-based paints and that they pose a health risk if ingested. This legal requirement is commonly referred to as “Title X.” On the form, you will indicate whether or not you know of any particular lead-based paint hazards on the property.
Before moving in, the tenant must sign the form acknowledging that they understand these risks, have been provided with the required pamphlet, and have been given a copy of any information regarding known lead paint hazards on the property—including common areas in addition to the rental unit itself.
What lead-based paint pamphlet should I provide?
Sometimes called the EPA pamphlet, the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead-based paint pamphlet should be provided to new tenants in addition to the lead disclosure form. The pamphlet, titled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home,” details the risks of residential lead exposure and is available in multiple languages. This pamphlet was recently updated to include lead dust-related standards that became effective on January 6, 2020, so make sure to use the newest version.
What if the tenant wants more information?
If you don’t know about any specific lead-based paint hazards on your property (assuming it was built before 1978), you are not required to inspect it for contamination. However, you are required by law to disclose and share all available reports of any known contamination.
If you’re not sure about the presence of lead-based paint, but a new tenant wants more information, they may ask you to get a lead hazard inspection from a certified inspector before they sign the lease. Generally speaking, you are not required to comply with the request, but you may choose to do so in order to fill the unit. Tenants also may submit paint samples themselves to a testing facility to determine lead levels. If you have questions about your legal obligations as a landlord or property manager, talk to a lawyer.
Are there any lead-based paint disclosure exemptions?
Yes, there are a few exceptions to the lead paint disclosure requirement for landlords. Most private and public housing is covered by this requirement, but exemptions generally include:
- Housing built during or after 1978
- Dormitories, lofts, and efficiencies that don’t have separate bedrooms
- Rental units with a lease term of 100 days or less (such as most vacation rentals)
- Housing for the elderly (unless children live in the unit)
- Housing for the disabled (unless children live in the unit)
If you are unsure about the disclosure requirements for your property, ask a lawyer.
How long do I need to keep copies of a signed lead-based paint disclosure?
You are typically required to hold on to these records for three years from the date the lease begins. The signed disclosures will provide legal defense in the event that a tenant is harmed from lead poisoning while living on your rental property and claims they did not receive a lead-based paint disclosure.
What happens if you don’t disclose lead paint to a tenant?
Both the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforce this requirement and occasionally audit landlords and conduct on-site inspections. In addition to property owners and landlords, agents and property managers also are liable for this disclosure requirement and may face sanctions for noncompliance.
Failure to comply with the disclosure requirements may result in civil fines of up to $10,000 per violation and criminal fines of up to $10,000 (and up to one year in jail) per violation. If it’s a minor, more technical violation (e.g., using an outdated pamphlet or insufficient form), then you may just get a letter explaining the violation and outlining what you need to do to come into compliance. If you find yourself in this situation, a landlord-tenant lawyer can help.
Can a tenant sue me for failure to disclose?
If you have specific knowledge about lead-based paint hazards on your rental property but fail to disclose them, tenants who are harmed by this exposure may sue you. In fact, the court may award triple the amount of actual damages to a harmed tenant, plus attorney and legal fees, if it finds that you willfully violated the disclosure requirement.
There are quite a few moving parts involved in renting out a property, including differences in state and local laws. Understanding your rights, responsibilities, and potential liabilities will help ensure success in your endeavors as a landlord or property manager. Be sure to check out Rocket Lawyer’s legal resources for landlords, and ask a lawyer if you have specific questions or concerns.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.