Get the Lead Out

A property manager hires a contractor to renovate a unit in a multi family housing complex. The contractor begins with demolition of some of the existing infrastructure in the unit–among the materials disturbed are lead pipes and surfaces with lead-based paint. Dust from grinding, sanding, and cutting fills the air. Someone alerts the health department and the project is immediately shut down, and an investigation is launched.

Question: Who is liable for any damages?

Answer: The property manager.

In April 2008, the EPA implemented the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP). The rule stipulated that by April, 2012 anyone working on renovating, repairing, or painting a project that disturbs lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and kindergarten buildings built before 1978 must be EPA or state-certified, and they must use certified subcontractors and employees who follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. In addition to the EPA’s RRP rule, U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires any building receiving public assistance undergo clearance examinations.

In the example above, the work practices to prevent lead contamination–which are extensive–were not followed, exposing workers and tenants to lead dust that can cause serious health issues and can result in a series of fines and delays for the project.

Make no mistake: The federal Renovation, Repair and Painting Program holds contractors responsible for following strict protocol to minimize and contain lead dust during home improvements on residences built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned in the U.S.

But it’s up to the property manager to select a qualified and compliant contractor.

The EPA states: “As a property manager or person in the position of authority to choose who renovates your hospital, child-care facility, school, or apartment, it is your responsibility to choose a contractor who is Lead-Safe Certified.”

The federal RRP regulations kick in when more than six square feet of a surface with lead based paint is disturbed. In California, the restrictions are tighter. First, California requires that you treat any building built before 1978 as if it contains lead and lead-based paint. If you disturb any amount of known lead-based paint or presumed lead-based paint in a structure in California, you must:

    • Contain the work area
    • Use lead safe work practices
    • Make sure there is no visible dust or debris at the end of your project
    • Demonstrate compliance with containment and lead safe work practices if asked by the California Department of Public Health or a local enforcement agency
    • This applies to all structures, no matter how small the job. It also applies for do it yourself work, even if there is no compensation involved in the project.

In addition, California’s OSHA 1532 regulation puts strict limits on how much workers can be exposed to lead and lead dust.

San Francisco has the fourth most pre-1978 buildings in the country. How do property managers protect themselves from lead paint contamination, penalization, or litigation? First, perform regular inspections of the facilities you manage. Surfaces with lead pipes and lead paint deteriorate over time. You can fall out of compliance with the FDA and HUD simply from the natural aging process. Second, only hire Lead-Safe Certified contractors for work on your properties.

It is critical that you stay on top of the condition of your entire facility, and when doing any type of construction that you use a Lead-Safe Certified contractor. The EPA has a directory of certified firms, searchable by city, zip code or state. To stay ahead of any lead and other hazardous material issues, we recommend you develop a comprehensive environmental operations maintenance program that routinely reviews and documents property conditions.