Whether you are selling or renting property tainted with lead paint, you may have a duty to make that fact known. Failing to disclose this information can result in civil or criminal liability.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly enforce a law called the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act. This law was enacted in 1992 and requires the disclosure of lead-based paint in residential sale and lease transactions. It applies to properties that were constructed before 1978.
Under the law, the failure to comply may result in thousands of dollars in fines. Both the EPA and the HUD are carrying out their own independent enforcement actions and they are working together in certain cases. HUD and EPA have engaged in various enforcement actions throughout the United States.
In addition to civil actions which could be filed in court, there are also administrative enforcement actions that can be filed by either agency. Often, these cases are settled with fines as well as agreements to comply with the law from the date of settlement forward. Often, lead removal is also required in order to settle the case.
Sale transactions require the inclusion of an informative pamphlet that can be provided by the Federal Government. In addition, sellers must disclose the presence of lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards and must disclose the existence of available records or reports
The law also requires that purchasers be provided a period to conduct a reassessment or inspection of the paint and must include certain information in the real estate contract.
Likewise, lenders must also provide the same information pamphlet and must disclose the lead paint and lead paint hazards to tenants. Certain educational and informative information must be contained in the lease to make sure that tenants are informed
Recently, an Oregon landlord was indicted on several counts of not complying with this law with regard to his tenants. Among other things, it was alleged that the landlord failed to inform prospective tenants of the fact that lead-based paint existed in the apartments. In addition, the landlord allegedly failed to take actions to properly remove the paint.
In July 2003 the EPA settled a case with a nationwide apartment management firm over similar alleged violations. The company agreed to pay $55,000 in fines relating to a multi-dwelling apartment building. According to published reports, the lead paint was only in the facility’s garage.
It is of course important that any lead abatement be properly performed. There are licensed professionals who understand what needs to be done in order to property abate lead so that the dust is properly captured and does not represent a potential breathing hazard.
Doing the right thing with regard to lead contamination is not just a moral imperative. It is also a federal requirement. Property owners, including landlords, have a legal obligation to not only address lead contamination, but also let prospective purchasers and tenants know that the problem exists. Failing to do so can place a property owner in an abundant amount of legal hot water.