Legislation Proposes Splintering Lead Paint Enforcement into Municipalities

Lead PaintNew Legislation Pending?

According to the Boston Globe, legislation has been introduced to grant municipalities the power to set their own blood lead limits. This would allow them greater ability to punish landlords, without granting any additional resources to help remove the lead.

The bill follows from the fact that federally, 5 micrograms per deciliter is considered worthy of intervention. But in Massachusetts, we intervene when lead is five times higher, 25 mg/dL.

Lower lead levels makes sense and should be state-wide. Apparently the bill sponsors feel that a state-wide reduction is politically unfeasible, so they are kicking it downstairs to the cities and towns.

Is Lead Really That Bad?

There is no safe amount of blood lead. Landlords in Worcester learned this at their May meeting, at which Dr. Robin Felker of UMass Memorial Medical Center gave a presentation that’s freely viewable online. Lead in children impairs development, reduces intelligence and concentration, and creates a host of economic and social problems as a result.

Some of us advanced in years may feel this cannot be true. “I grew up with lead all over the place, and I turned out all right, didn’t I?” Well, who’s to say you weren’t destined to become a concert pianist, a Nobel prize winner, or the president of the United States before lead addled your brain?

Lead drains human potential, and as a society we must get rid of it utterly and entirely. Not at any cost, not all at once. But it must be a long-term goal. The same is true of Cadmium and certain other heavy metals.

We did a good job with removing lead from gasoline and paint in the 70’s. But lead still rains down on us from General Aviation exhaust. Lead seeps into our drinking water from our pipes and solders. Lead gets extracted out of contaminated soil when we plant vegetables. And lead paint is still in almost all of our homes.

What is being done about lead?

Unfortunately, here is where reasoned discussion goes off the rails. In Massachusetts, a landlord is strictly liable for lead poisoning his or her tenants unless the unit has a certificate of deleading compliance.

It doesn’t matter what the truth is. If the child got the lead from aviation exhaust, or city water, or the vegetable garden, who can tell? The landlord will be liable. Landlords have been made the scapegoat for a very real and very large problem.

Lead is a societal problem, and as a society, we must solve it together. Any new lead legislation should increase the state’s contribution to the deleading effort.

Currently there’s a $1,500 tax credit per unit. There are some limited grants available to remove lead, provided the renovated apartments are then rented to low income households afterwards.

The market cost to delead a unit with lead trim and windows is probably just under $10,000 per unit. The tax credit and grant funding have not kept pace with inflation at all.

Lead Certificate Fraud

The surest sign that there are few good deleading options is the presence of lead certificate fraud. A landlord in Springfield (not a MassLandlords member, but he should have been) has been sentenced to five years’ probation and a blank-check penalty to pay whatever lead-related medical costs may arise for his tenants. His crime was falsifying lead certificates.

The truth is probably that all landlords are guilty of minor frauds. We may steer away families with children, risking a visit from the Commission Against Discrimination. Or we may sell a property stating “no knowledge of lead.” Isn’t that a laugh? You might feel in your heart that the property probably has lead somewhere.  But you can loft your ignorance onto a pedestal and get away scot-free by checking the box that says “no knowledge”.

Past generations of good people unwittingly painted us all into a corner. It is not any one landlord’s fault. There needs to be greater support to help landlords do the right thing and delead. This is the kind of thing that can only be coordinated at the state level or higher. We shouldn’t let the cities take the reins.

The inside information is that the Mass Association of REALTORS has our back on this one, and nothing is likely to be voted out of committee at the present time.

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