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Cleveland’s Lead Safe Rental Law—What Does “Lead Safe” Mean?

In my last post, I gave an outline of Cleveland’s new lead safe rental law. But what exactly does it mean to make a home “lead safe”?

Cleveland has one of the highest rates of child lead poisoning in the country. Children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning for three big reasons: 1) Children and pregnant women absorb 50% of the lead that enters their bodies as opposed to 15% for healthy adults. Pregnant women pass that lead on to their unborn children. 2) Children under the age of six have brains that are still in development and lead can cause permanent damage to the brain at this most sensitive time. 3) Infants and toddlers touch everything, chew on anything, and are constantly putting their hands and other objects in their mouths. This creates the perfect pathway for lead to enter their bodies.

Cleveland’s law—or any law pertaining to controlling lead-based paint hazards—is designed to make a home safe for children under the age of six. The steps to get there are designed with the third item above in mind—stopping that pathway for lead to enter children’s bodies.

There are two approaches addressing lead-based paint: lead safe or lead free. To make a home lead free, you have to remove all the lead. This is called “Abatement”. Warning to landlords: If a child has a blood test that comes back with high levels of lead, the state typically requires that abatement methods be used to rid the home of all sources of lead-based paint. Abatement is very expensive, but the advantage is that the lead has been eliminated and little or no further maintenance is required.

Cleveland’s law requires the home to be lead safe, not lead free. This means that you don’t have to eliminate all the lead in the home, but you must take steps to protect the youngest occupants from the hazards caused by deteriorated lead-based paint, or leaded dust created when lead-based paint is disturbed by friction or impact. It also includes addressing lead that has built up in the soil, especially bare soil where a child is likely to play. The actions to control lead hazards without eliminating the lead are called “Interim Controls”. Interim controls are much more affordable, but ongoing maintenance is necessary because these are temporary measures and the lead still exists. Because of this, Cleveland’s law will require re-evaluation every two years by a licensed Lead Risk Assessor to make sure maintenance is being done to keep the interim controls effective.

Most homes are going to require a combination of abatement and interim control methods. You might decide to use an interim control method like “paint film stabilization” (a form of repainting which I’ll explain in a later post) to address deteriorated paint on walls and ceilings, but then choose an abatement method like window replacement to address lead dust hazards created by friction on old wooden windows.

All this can seem overwhelming, especially if you have multiple rental properties. How do you identify the lead hazards? How do you choose what methods to use for each hazard? Can you do it yourself or do you have to hire a professional? Stay tuned for answers to these and many other questions about Cleveland’s new lead safe rental law.


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