Grind down our lead painted windows?
September 7, 2011 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Conflicting problems with both non-closing windows and likely lead paint in a Los Angeles rental. Maintenance plan to grind them all down later this week and I'm pregnant and worried about the dust. I would deeply appreciate some advice on how this might play out and how to handle it (yes, not legal advice) especially advice from those who know about California and LA rental issues.

We rent in LA and complained (yet again) to our landlord and apartment manager about the insecurity of our huge bank of ground-level street-facing windows after the other first floor apartment was robbed through a window! They're steel frame windows with a crank to close and a lever to lock, neither of which really work, in a building that's probably from 1960. These are windows that can be quickly and silently opened from the outside by grabbing and rocking them, and we have complained repeatedly for the several years we've been here, but the best fix we've ever gotten has been some twisted wire. Obviously after the break-in this can't go on.

Today the landlord sent a maintenance guy to look at the windows. Later we got a call from the apartment manager saying that they would come in to fix them on Friday and they would fix them by grinding them down.

Oh dear. These windows are from the 1950's or 1960's and they have layer over layer of oil based paint on them. I am certain the lower layers are full of lead. I am seven months pregnant and would like a healthy baby without cognitive impairment if possible. Maintenance in this block is never done cleanly or so far as we can tell with adherence to regulations, and we are never able to ask anyone doing the work what chemicals they are using or what they plan on doing (we rarely see the same person twice and none of them are able to really communicate with us because we don't speak Spanish and they don't speak English).

We called the apartment manager back to ask her (nicely) about lead and express our concerns. She was as rude as she always is, and told us that it's impossible that there's lead paint because it has been illegal to use since the 1970's, then she agreed to ask the owner (who owns several buildings and is generally medium-professional) and get back to us.

What should we do and what is likely to happen to us? Can we trust what they tell us? Should we get our own test kit, am I right to be concerned that this is a hazard? If we insist they fix the windows AND follow safe lead procedures (which I'm not familiar with but a quick Google suggests are complicated) I'm worried it will be a huge fight and we'll have to find somewhere else to live - we're not under lease and we're moving long distance next year so we can't sign a year lease anywhere else. We are also very settled here, can't afford to move twice in a year, and it's generally a great apartment.
posted by crabintheocean to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
DON'T let them just turn all that safely inert chunks of paint into easily-inhaled dust!

Scratch through all the layers of paint in one small spot and do a simple Home Depot (etc) instant lead test. Negative, no worries. Positive, call your apartment manager ASAP and point out (smugly or not, depending on your personality) that she made a mistake and if she proceeds with turning that paint into dust, will make a much bigger and more expensive EPA-involving mistake.

That said, really, lead doesn't pose that big of a risk... Normally. Ground up and inhaled by a woman carrying a newly developing nervous system, however, pretty much gives you the worst possible combination of circumstances.
posted by pla at 5:13 PM on September 7, 2011

Your apartment manager is indeed incorrect in her statement that there can't be any lead. Lead paint was used up to 1978, and was used quite often for windows, which require longer-lasting paint.

I would suggest going to the owner first, directly if possible. If the owner and/or management don't answer your concerns, contact the LA County Public Health department; they handle lead paint complaints in your area and would be the appropriate agency to provide advice and guidance on how to proceed. If you don't want to report your landlord right off the bat, you should be able to ask to speak to someone without providing your info first.

Additionally, please don't rely on a Home Depot instant lead test (or any swab-type instant lead test) unless it's the only option available to you. They're not entirely inaccurate, but they can have false negatives, especially with low levels of lead. There's a reason the CPSC has said they're unreliable. (And certainly don't write off the concern on the basis of one negative test.)

I am an environmental professional, although not your environmental professional.
posted by pie ninja at 6:08 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

If this does end up being a big problem, you might be able to move to another place owned or managed by the same company, since you have a long-term relationship. It would be better to move than run a health risk like that. Find out if there is a problem first, though.
posted by annsunny at 8:26 PM on September 7, 2011

Some follow-up: We never got a straight answer, the landlord started quoting the law to us which seems to say that they could remove a surprisingly large amount of paint inside our unit without doing anything to protect us at all, then he sent another sketchy handyman over to peer at us and our windows and mutter stuff. We just don't trust them at all and I don't want to spend my child's first few years anxiously watching for signs of impairment and wondering if we did the right things.

So we just dropped it and told them we'd call them when we were ready for them to do the work. We still have shitty windows and feel on edge at night sometimes (I guess we opted for the risk of having to put lead in someone else over the risk of putting lead in ourselves, har har) but our lead is undisturbed and we'll just move out as soon as we can next year. Fuck this building.
posted by crabintheocean at 9:38 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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