How does deleading work when you're already in the apartment?
March 30, 2014 5:01 PM   Subscribe

We live in an apartment in Massachusetts and are expecting a baby four months in the future. We think the apartment may not be deleaded. I know that a landlord is legally obligated to delead an apartment that a child will live in, and I assume that covers the case in which a child appears after the lease has started. If that's the case, how does deleading work when tenants are already living in the apartment, and is it logistically feasible for us to go through that process?

The lease looks standard, but there is nothing on it about lead. Also, the building is very old and has chipping thresholds. So, we think this place may not be deleaded. We're going to ask our landlord explicitly.

But if it is indeed a leaded apartment, how does deleading work in a practical sense? I guess within recent years, the law has allowed for "Interim Control," which sounds like it may be sealing the lead with special paint. If that's the case, for how long would we typically have to vacate the premises? Is it a huge hassle on par with moving out of the apartment?

Also, am I correct in that it is a health issue that comes into play once the baby starts moving on his own accord? Or is inhalation a real risk if there's chipped paint anywhere in the apartment? If so, is it also a risk to a pregnant mother and fetus? Should we be getting tests done? If so, how?

Thanks for reading through all of the branches of this question!
posted by ignignokt to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Massachusetts landlord here.

Legally, you were supposed to get a lead disclosure as part of your lease when you signed your lease. You actually do something similar when you buy property.

My rental property was built in the late 80s, so lead didn't come into play, but we still had to fill out and sign, and have our tenant sign, a lead disclosure just the same.

I am really not sure what's involved in remediating lead. Legally, the landlord should delead... but then again, legally the landlord should have done the disclosure paperwork with you too.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:20 PM on March 30, 2014

Best answer: My apartment was contaminated with lead dust due to unsafe exterior scraping and sanding. The clean-up which including painting/repainting certain portions of wall and floor took about three days. We moved out and stayed in a hotel.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:20 PM on March 30, 2014

Best answer: First, I'd check the lead safe homes database. If your home has been inspected in the past 10-20 years, you can find the status here. If your home isn't on this database, it means it either hasn't been inspected yet (which isn't rare), or it was inspected back in the 1980s, before they started keeping records at the state level.

The primary exposure routes are ingestion (child eating the lead chips -- they are sweet, which is why kids chew on painted surfaces) and inhalation/dust ingestion (primarily dust from the paint if the paint is disturbed during renovation activities, or dust from the window sashes if they have lead paint).

Your landlord will be responsible for having the apartment inspected by a licensed MA lead inspector. This is generally a very thorough inspection. If deleading is required, the landlord will generally have to put you up elsewhere while the work is going on. They'll also have to follow RRP, which is a recent EPA rule for renovating child-occupied premises. However, I'm guessing your landlord isn't particularly lead-smart, because they also should be giving you an annual lead paint disclosure with your lease, and it sounds like they haven't done so. So. If they hire contractors, make sure they're RRP-certified.

I'm hoping someone else has better advice about how to approach your landlord on this, but if not, you can also call the MA regulators (their number is on the database page linked above) or your town's Health Department (if they're not the right people, they'll get you to the people who are). You can always call with a hypothetical question (and not give your address) if you want to feel things out before getting your landlord in trouble.
posted by pie ninja at 5:22 PM on March 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I guess to add, we have had lead testing done on our current house before buying it. It's fairly uninvasive now, done with a handheld laser gun thingie, but it is thorough - it ends up being a 10+ page report where every nook and cranny of the house are tested and reported on. There's a certain allowable amount of lead that is "acceptable" and anything over that would require remediation.

If your landlord agrees to all of this (and I am skeptical a bit, just for the fact they omitted the disclosure to start with), I believe they would also be responsible for alternate housing.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:24 PM on March 30, 2014

Best answer: You can buy cheap lead test kits to at least get a rudimentary sense if lead is present our not. Hardware store should have it.
posted by edgeways at 5:42 PM on March 30, 2014

Best answer: Former MA landlord. Not only should you have gotten a lead certificate, you should look closely at when it was done and who did it. Professional testing is straightforward and reasonably cheap. Remediation can be expensive. Part of the reason is that the process of abating lead paint is done in a way to introduce as little new contamination. For example, sanding chipping paint is bad news. Chemically stripping bad is still bad news, but not as bad as sanding. In most cases, the solution is cover up. For a threshold, they usually put down sheet metal bend to fit over it. Old wooden screen door or storm door? Replace the whole thing. Paint on a door frame? Cover it with vinyl or sheet metal. Once remediation has been done, the unit will be retested. The most important test and the easiest to overlook doing involves cleaning the window sills and sashes, which accumulate dust with lead paint. Basement window with lead paint all around the frame that rubs when its opened? Seal it up permanently.

Still, abatement done right is time consuming and costly. A stingy landlord will DIY and skimp.

Things can get screwy for what's acceptable - a whole wall that pegs the lead test meter? As long as the paint is in good shape (which usually means a nice top coat) and there are no chewable/mouthable surfaces, then there is no issue.
posted by plinth at 5:52 PM on March 30, 2014

Best answer: I know that a landlord is legally obligated to delead an apartment that a child will live in, and I assume that covers the case in which a child appears after the lease has started.

My mom and sister have both been MA landlords and I would not necessarily assume this. I would contact a tenant's union before I would contact the landlord. The place my mother lived in had some specifics because it was one half of a two-family but when she had tenants who became pregnant, they had to move once the baby was mobile. I'd tread cautiously and make sure you know what specific regulations apply to you. And yes: the issue is paint chips, not anything in the air (and potentially the dirt outside).
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 PM on March 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks guys – every single one of these answers has been really informative. I'm glad I asked here because I was just about to email one of my landlords. We want to be sure of what we're asking before we start the conversation. (The landlords just informal, rather than hostile, but still, this could be touchy.)

I'll call some combination of the regulators, town health department, and a tenants' union if I can find one and make sure we're covered. I think I'll get a lead testing kit, too. (The lead database pie ninja mentioned says one unit in the building did have lead violations back in 1995, but it's not our unit.) My wife is planning to ask the doctor about her lead levels.

ClaudiaCenter, were you in Massachusetts at the time? If so, was it as simple as bringing up the law about deleading?

If anyone else has been through this specific situation or has any other helpful insight, I'd still love to hear it!
posted by ignignokt at 8:02 PM on March 30, 2014

Best answer: I lived in Boston when my eldest was born, and when we called about the lead, because our lead disclosure was "We don't know!", the landlord had his painter come by and was going to clean up and do some minimal abatement. Never happened. Nope.

So when we moved to the North Shore, we specifically looked at places that specified they were deleaded and looked up the status at the link provided by pie ninja.

If your landlord didn't give you the lead disclosure form, that could be grounds for breaking any lease you have and moving to a new and newer place. That can be hard in any of the Greater Boston area since newer constructions are likely to be luxury ones that no one could possibly afford. But they are out there if you put in the time and check every address on the safe homes search.

If your landlord is unwilling to go through the abatement or deleading process, then you should be able to get assistance from the Public Health Department. You might also be able to do the deleading or hire a delading service on your own and charge it back to the landlord if the landlord fails to comply.

Most MA landlords don't want to do it because it can be very expensive, and honestly, this particular law in MA falls short because landlords don't HAVE to do it except under certain circumstances. Years ago NYC started requiring landlords to go through deleading for every apartment in between tenants such that NYC is slowly becoming only deleaded.

My strongest advice is that it's likely not to be an issue until baby is moving. Get a lead test earlier than a year if you're worried. Tell your child's care provider what's on the disclosure form, if you have it, and if you intend on staying where you are for awhile, fight for the deleading. If you're going to move before baby is a year and the surfaces test okay, then find a deleaded place next go around ---- even if it means living further away from jobs and the like, especially if a second child is in the future three or for years from now.
posted by zizzle at 4:42 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My advice is to figure it out soon. I have a three-year-old, and I just went through absolute hell trying to find an affordable deleaded apartment in the Boston area without paying a broker fee. It took me four months of trolling Craigslist every day.

Landlords can be extremely shady, and I filed complaints on quite a number of them for discriminating against me once they found out I had a child under six (which meant that they would then be responsible for deleading). People would straight-up hang up on me, for example, and I also applied for any number of places after viewing them and was passed over in favor of other candidates---although I can't directly attribute that to my familial status except in the case where the idiot landlord sent me an email saying so, it happened many, many times.

Thankfully, since you're already in your apartment, you're pretty well set, although your landlord could choose not to renew your lease. Definitely communicate about this in writing if at all possible.
posted by woodvine at 7:49 AM on March 31, 2014

Response by poster: Updates:

- I talked to my city's inspectional services department. The landlord is indeed responsible for deleading the apartment, even if you didn't have the child when you started the lease. However, they are not obligated to do anything until the baby is born.

- We got the lead testing kit, and yup, this apartment definitely has lead.

- I've realized our lease ends about a month after the baby will likely be born. So, if we let our landlords know ahead of time, and he doesn't want to delead, they could simply not renew our lease. Which is discriminatory, but from what woodvine has said, landlords seem to think it's worth doing anyway?

Our realistic options at this point seem to be:

- Wait until the baby is born and the lease is renewed, then bring up the deleading.

- Start looking for a new place now, then move a few weeks after the baby is born, which sounds brutal.

- Ask to be let out of the lease early and move in 2-3 months, before the baby is born. However, it may not be possible to find a place that soon.

- Ask for an extension of the lease, get out before the baby starts crawling. Here, although we're good tenants, I'm not sure what leverage we have.

We'll definitely look for a deleaded place the next time around, but I'm not sure what to do for the next 1.5 years, at the moment.
posted by ignignokt at 7:24 PM on March 31, 2014

Response by poster: I've since spoken to a lawyer about this. (Keep in mind that he is a lawyer, not necessarily your lawyer, people reading this question in the future.) He recommended this as the safest path:

- Wait until the landlords send us a lease for next year.
- Some time after that point, bring up deleading. If they were to take back their offer to renew, we would have clear evidence that they intended to renew before they knew about the baby.

We can't lock down all of the variables, but I think this steers well toward at least not having to move immediately at the end of our lease when the baby is born. Thanks again for all of the help everyone!
posted by ignignokt at 7:30 PM on May 14, 2014

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