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Title X

Lead Paint Poisoning Issue Goes Public
Title X Gets Everyone's Attention

In October of 1996, prospective home buyers and prospective apartment/home tenants will obtain the legal right to have those properties professionally inspected for Lead-Paint prior to signing either an agreement of sale or a lease.

Title X, otherwise known as the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, officially went into effect in October of 1996.

While by no means a final solution to the danger Lead-Paint poisoning poses for children, it is a crucial first step in shining the spotlight of public awareness on this ongoing and still unremediated public tragedy. Because almost no one remains unaffected by Title X, hundreds of thousands of people will become "instantly educated" about the danger of Lead-Paint and lead paint dust exposure for children. (Lead poisoning has and will continue to cause intelligence, learning and behavior problems in the population's 1.7 million preschoolers.)

Among those most likely to team quickly are landlords and their tenants, buyers and sellers of residential properties, lenders and borrowers, insurers and the insured, contractors and owners, and the real estate industry's private and public sectors. It is these groups who must contend with Title X's newly-imposed legal mandates.

For landlords, the mandate is disclosure: they must inform potential tenants that lead is present in rental properties (and distribute a pamphlet on lead approved by HUD and the EPA), before a lease is signed. If the tenant has young children, disclosure may prevent those children from being exposed to lead. If the landlord can't rent the property, that may force its sale to someone who will do lead abatement (or, the landlord may at last have the lead professionally removed). Failure to either inform tenants or abate the property can result in treble damages awarded to an injured tenant, damages that must be paid by the landlord. In all cases, these measures are likely to ensure one less potential hazard for children.

Similar principles apply between sellers and buyers of homes: disclosure to potential buyers - if the presence of lead is known to the seller - is mandated by law. And potential buyers also have the legal right to obtain a lead inspection (as they do for radon, termites and asbestos). If lead is found, such a finding may allow them to renegotiate the selling price downward to accommodate the cost of abatement. Or, it may allow them to rescind a prior agreement to buy. (In addition, once lead has been found on the property, all future interested parties legally must be informed.)

The legal mandates affecting lenders and borrowers, insurers and the insured all pertain to disclosure at the time of a transaction. If a sum is borrowed for renovating a property, the lender has an incentive to be certain that the property value will not be diminished by the discovery of lead. And FHA and other government-insured loans will require lead inspections. For insurers wishing to protect themselves from claims, excluding lead coverage will serve as a red warning light to potential insureds, and they will learn of the presence of lead (if it exists) on the property they wish to insure.

When homeowners hire contractors to improve their property, those contractors (pursuant to future regulations mandated by Title X) can be held legally responsible if they do work that creates lead dust or uncovers Lead-Paint. So contractors are mightily encouraged to test for lead before they begin work. The homeowner can hold contractors legally accountable if they do not live up to this mandate. As for the real estate industry's private sector, Title X will inevitably build demand for lead free (or, at least, lead-safe) homes, while creating "lead consciousness" among consumers in a position to buy, rent or renovate.

In the arena of public housing, Title X puts forth stringent new regulations including the imposition of direct requirements on the owners of purely public housing to conduct risk assessment, implement interim controls, complete inspections and conduct abatements based on existing guidelines and future regulations.

The federal government, too, is forced to become a "model landlord" by provisions in the Hazard Reduction Act. The government now has an expanded duty to abate property constructed prior to 1960 and 1978. Fines against federal agencies that fail to comply can be as much as $10,000.

There are many other safe-guarding provisions put forth by Title X in an effort to reduce the hazard of leased-based paint for children. Congress has finally become sufficiently disturbed by its own findings regarding the toxic effects of lead to take significant, first-step action. As one such finding reads, "the health and development of children living in as many as 3,800,000 American homes is endangered by chipping or peeling Lead-Paint, or excessive amounts of lead-contaminated dust in their homes".

Public education is an important part of the Congressional strategy for removing the danger of lead from the places children live. The National Lead Information Center offers free information from a toll-free number to anyone who needs to know the facts about lead: 1-800-LEAD-FYI. It's a little better than "too little, too late", if public awareness snowballs into outrage and constructive action.

This informational piece was prepared by Silverman & Fodera. If you would like more information on this topic, call us at (800) 220-LAW1, or use the "Do I Have A Case?" link on this web site.