Lead safe housing

Laws that require landlords to provide lead safe housing can prevent lead poisoning

Ten lessons fromToledo's Lead Safe Ordinance 

1. Toledo's ordinance changes the paradigm from remediation to prevention. The name of the advocates gives you a sense of what’s new about Toledo’s Lead Safe ordinance: Toledo Lead Poisoning Prevention Coalition (TLPPC). Prior to the enactment of the ordinance, all the efforts by Ohioans has been to “fix” poisoned children and poisoned houses after a baby has been found to have lead poisoning. TLPPC takes the position that using babies as lead detectors is wrong. 

2. TLPPC has about 60 organizational members. Led by Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and the Toledo/Licking County Health Department and supported by about 60 groups representing education (Toledo Public Schools), health (all three major health providers) and civic, faith, labor and community groups. 

3. Advocates had been preparing for a long time. ABLE researched lead free ordinances in other cities (especially Rochester New York) and commissioned a study of the problem by the Kirwan Institute. Then, in 2012 and 2013, ABLE teamed up with Toledoans United for Social Action (TUSA) sponsored meetings with local residents to show the problem and promote a lead safe law. Meeting in church basements and community rooms with residents and leaders helped build a base of support and surfaced grassroots victims who were willing to become active. At the same time, advocates were meeting “behind closed doors” with local health, education leaders, civic and elected leaders to brief them on the issue. Providing data and evidence and answering their questions before introducing legislation was critical, says ABLE’s Bob Cole. Being able to cite the example of Rochester NY, another Rust Belt city, was important. The sky did not fall in after Rochester passed its ordinance and established a Lead Safe Registry. Rochester landlords were not driven out of business and rents did not skyrocket, leaving families homeless. One result of the “closed doors” campaign was that the Toledo Blade became a supporter of the measure in 2014. That endorsement gave "permission" for other institutions to join the cause. 
4. Flint was a trigger, but so was the Mayoral election. When the tragedy of Flint’s mass lead poisoning hit the news with local and state official hauled before Congress and the courts of public opinion, Toledo officials understood the need to act. They couldn’t say “we didn’t know.” (RHINO member JoyceH reminds us "you don't want to see your name on a test case.") They had been briefed and understood the local problem. Flint is just two hours due north of Toledo on US 23 and has a very similar demographic profile to Toledo. Both are manufacturing towns, both have old housing inhabited by African American, and both have African American female mayors. The role of newly elected Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson was critical. Ms. Hicks-Hudson was City Council President until the sudden and unexpected death of Mayor Collins. Then last Fall she was elected to the position in her own right. 

5. Personal stories are compelling. The ground work of years of basement meetings paid dividends when family members pointed out the fallacy of the “remediation” strategy: poisoned children can be helped, but not cured. “Dominque Ottrix fought back tears as she told council her 7-year-old daughter was diagnosed with high levels of lead five years ago and still suffers from serious effects. The child is still “on the waiting list” for neurological testing, Ms. Ottrix said.’“As a young mother, I did not know my daughter could get poising from dust,” she said. “Everyday is a struggle for my little girl because she had lead poisoning.’ ” 

6. Experts on tap were able to make the cost/benefit case. Educational and health professions contributed their scientific knowledge to the discussion by answering questions, providing research, and supporting reasonable decisions. A critical moment took place when alternative legislation was introduced by real estate interests. The proposed substitute bill proposed to redu ce landlord costs by substituting a visual inspection instead of a series of “dust swipes” as a method of determining lead hazards. TLPPC held a press conference featuring a Health Department representative demonstrating the “dust swipe” method, followed by Attorney Cole’s explanation that a typical inspection would involve 10 samples at $3 each in order to prevent a lifetime of disability from lead poisoning.  

7. Throughout the campaign, advocates avoided blaming landlords. TLPPC spokespeople were always careful to avoid blaming landlords for poisoning children. After all, it was not the landlords who put the lead into the paint years ago that’s now becoming dust ingested by the children. The no fault strategy focused on “there’s a hazard, you need to fix it.” Not stigmatizing the other side made it easier to compromise along the way. 

8. Here's what the new law does: 
  • Owners of 1-4 unit properties built before 1978* must pass a health department inspection. If the unit fails inspection, the owner must hire a State certified lead contractor to apply interim controls (cleaning and painting) to remove the hazard. *Lead was banned from paint in 1978.
  • Owners must provide all the Federal Disclosure information. 
  • Inspected houses will be listed on a publicly accessible database (on line) and 
  • Units need to be re inspected every 4 years if they are under interim control or every 20 years if they have had lead abatement. 

9. Lead safe is not lead free. Lead safe means that any lead in the house is not exposed to tenants. If lead is detected in the “dust swipe,” then owners will have to hire a State certified lead contractor to apply interim controls (cleaning and painting) to make sure that lead in the unit is not exposed. If a lead safe property becomes damaged by water, scrapes, breakage, or remodeling, lead could be released into the living space. 

10. Passage of the ordinance is the end of the beginning.  The next challenge for the health department is to identify all of the pre-1978 rental properties in Toledo and get them registered for inspections. 

 RHINO recommends that cities and states adopt a comprehensive approach to eliminating lead hazards including 
  • Actively enforce lead disclosure laws. 
  • Require Universal testing of all children between 1-6 years of age, and 
  • Take aggressive steps to remove lead from houses where children were poisoned.
posted July 31, 2016
What are the elements of a lead prevention program?

1. Children under six years of age? Have your children tested for lead poisoning and demand mandatory testing

    Back in the olden days, The Ohio Department of Health recommended testing children under 6 years of age who were living in pre-1978 homes at high risk for lead poisoning.  At the same time, Medicaid's EPSDT program was mandated to provide lead tests for all under 6 Medicaid clients.
    Today advocates are arguing that we need universal mandatory testing of all under 6 children because lead sources aren't always in the home but might be in schools, in day care or guest houses, or in the soil around the home.
    Since Flint, more and more residents (owners and tenants) are wondering if lead pipes at their homes can leach out lead into drinking water.  More on identifying lead pipes at home.
    Right now many water departments will run a test upon request. Check with your local water provider. But if you have a child under 6 years of age in the household, ask your MD to check also. Neurological damage can begin even before behavorial symptoms occur.Maybe don't rely on a plumber who is not an expert on lead risks.
    Also have your children checked, if you are involved in an industry where lead is used. This story from Cincinnati illustrates the risk of bringing lead dust home from work. One final note: if you live in a property built on an industrial site or which used "fill" from an industrial site, there could be lead in the soil. Again-get your children tested if you believe that you have one of these risk factors in addition to old paint.
    Worry is good, taking precautions is better.

2. Make sure that the houses where children were poisoned are remediated or torn down.

3.  Counsel homeseekers to demand Federal Disclosure rules.  
How can Federal disclosure regulations help? Since 1992, Federal law requires that owners of most properties must give prospective tenants a statement disclosing known lead hazards and a pamphlet on lead risks. RHINO guesses that most of the time this disclosure doesn't happen...or that slumlords lie and say they don't know about lead hazards even though they may have been contacted by a health department official. It's past time for some enforcement, but because ODH refuses to disclose the addresses of houses where children lived when they were poisoned, there's no practical way for advocates to "test" of the landlord disclosure rule. Four things could be done. 

4. Incorporate lead disclosure into homesearch education so that tenants don't rent without getting a written disclosure statement. If the statement says "no knowledge," ask the landlord to get a lead assessment before agreeing to rent. Encourage tenants to report non disclosure. This strategy worked in Cincinnati. 

5. Require that housing authorities refuse lease approval for a housing choice voucher household unless the lease (or addendum) includes a lead disclosure statement. Right now HCV landlords and public housing authorities have this duty, but the model lease addendum doesn't require it.

6. Create a private registry of houses where children were active when they were poisoned. Ask parents of poisoned children to voluntarily report houses where they lived or where their children spent time (babysitters, relatives, friends). Then ask these property owners to get lead testing. The city of Rochester, New York does something like this.

7. Force the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to disclose the addresses where children may have been poisoned. You would not need to create a private registry if ODH would release the addresses they have. Some enterprising attorneys need to challenge ODH's claim that the addresses are protected by HIPAA protections. RHINO says nonsense! the houses are not the patients!

8. Push for a local ordinance to require a lead safe certification before any home is offered for rent.  In 2014, advocates in Toledo proposed a local ordinance that would require a landlord to prove her/his rental property was lead free before offering it for rent, but got bogged down in local politics (algae crisis, mayor dies, special election). Now's the time to use the Flint Catastrophe to revive this law in Toledo and to push for similar legislation in communities with lead hot spots around the state,

9. Promote and support victims bringing civil law suits against landlords who knowingly rent poisoned houses. Money judgements promote voluntary compliance.