Cleveland Landlords Pushed to be Lead Safe
While several years have passed since Cleveland City Council passed a law mandating the obtainment of lead-safe certificates for rental properties, landlords and property owners now only have 12 months left to meet the requirements.
According to Cleveland’s Director of Building and Housing, Sally Martin, nearly 9,200 rental units in the city have been officially lead-safe certified.
In February 2019, Cleveland officials and members of local philanthropic, healthcare, environmental and educational organizations formed the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition in an effort to create a more “lead-safe” city and further prevent lead poisoning.
According to reports at the time, lead paint was believed to plague more than 80% of the city’s older housing stock. In 2018, more than 1,200 children in Cleveland were poisoned by the toxin.
Six months later, in July, Cleveland City Council would introduce—and later pass that same month—legislation crafted by the coalition requiring mandatory lead-safe certificates for pre-1978 rental properties. The bill also took input from real estate groups, local hospitals and Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH).
The legislation was sponsored by Health and Human Services Committee Chair Blaine Griffin, Vice-Chair Kerry McCormack and Council President Kevin Kelley, and was co-sponsored by former mayor Frank Jackson.
In addition to requiring that landlords and property owners pay for private inspections and secure lead-safe certificates for their occupied rental units by March 1, 2023, the law also:
While the legislation did not include any mandates for childcare facilities built before 1978, CLASH reported at the time of the bill’s passing that it would be working with state and county authorities to create one. The group also intended to push several amendments, including ones that would advance tenant protections through a rent deposit program.
Since 2019, Cleveland officials have been reportedly enforcing the lead rules a few ZIP codes at a time. Despite a slow start, the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University, which audits the lead program, reported that the city witnessed a surge in lead-safe applications in the final months of 2021.
“I want to honor the fact that we have really made considerable progress over this year,” said Rob Fischer, who co-directs the center at CWRU. “But I don’t want people to be misled that we don’t still have a long way to go.”
According to reports, rentals in Shaker Square and much of the West Side hit their compliance deadlines last year, while Old Brooklyn and parts of Clark-Fulton are expected to meet deadlines in 2022. Although the city has been able to confirm the certification of nearly 9,200 thus far, Martin believes that there are likely some 100,000 units out there despite having only 61,000 registered in the system.
As a requirement by the city, landlords are supposed to have their rentals registered with the city, which is intended to help city workers keep track of who needs to comply with the lead paint law. Despite this requirement, it is presumed that many rentals could be flying under the city’s radar.
To mitigate the issue, Lead-Safe Cleveland Coalition is trying to get the word out through marketing and canvassing with the help of foundations and nonprofits. Since the lead-safe law was passed, it has also worked to set up a resource center for landlords, tenants, clearance technicians and contractors.
“Word of mouth is so powerful in this community. We do have landlords that are really bought in, that are really engaged,” said former building and housing director Ayonna Blue Donald. “And so they're spreading the word to demystify the thought that it is hard to get the certification.”
Zak Burkons, a property manager who recently started a lead inspection business in 2021, has also found word of mouth to be how word gets out about the program and meeting the lead-safe mandate.
“When I started cold-calling on this back in June and July, nobody knew about it at all,” Burkons said. “Nobody believed it was real.”
To date, the coalition has raised more than $100 million to help property owners, however, failing to certify a rental as lead safe is a minor misdemeanor, which comes with a fine. While reports indicate that the city has only issued a few dozen notices of violation thus far, Martin said she plans to be much more aggressive in taking noncompliant landlords to housing court this year.
“The message needs to get out that if you’re a landlord in the city of Cleveland, you have to comply with this ordinance,” Martin said. “You need to register your property annually and you need to comply with the city’s lead-safe ordinance. And if you’re not going to comply, or you don’t have plans to comply, you will be prosecuted.”
Developing EPA Lead Standards
Back in 2008, the EPA released the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. The RRP (amended in 2010 and 2011) aimed to protect the public from any and all lead-based coating hazards associated with renovation, various repairs and activity.
The RRP rule protects residents of pre-1978 homes from lead-based paint disturbed during renovation, repair or painting activities. The rule requires that firms that perform or offer to perform renovations in pre-1978 houses need to be certified by the EPA and assign individuals who have been trained to use lead-safe work practices; disclose important safety information to residents prior to the work; and document their compliance with the rule.
The rule officially went into effect on April 22, 2010.
In 2009, petitioners requested that the EPA provide more adequate protection for children by providing more stringent lead paint standards. By 2011, the EPA acknowledged this need but failed to provide a timetable or made any moves to propose a new rule.
By June 2018, the EPA released another proposal to the dust-lead hazard standards; the action was stemmed from a December 2017 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled that the agency must reevaluate the risks from lead paint.
According to the EPA, lead-contaminated dust from chipped or peeling lead-based paint in homes built prior to 1978 presents one of the most common causes of elevated blood lead levels in children. Infants and children are especially vulnerable to lead paint exposure because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
The June proposal was reportedly in response to a lawsuit filed in August 2016 against the EPA by a coalition of environmental and community-led organizations, who charged that the EPA had duties to uphold regarding the TSCA and its amendments contained in the Paint Hazard Act.
In June 2019, former EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson announced new standards for lead, specifically found in dust on floors, windowsills and miscellaneous surfaces to protect children from its harmful effects.
To continue to protect children’s health and make progress on the dust-lead issue, the EPA lowered the dust-lead hazard standards from 40 micrograms of lead per square foot to 10 micrograms per square foot on floors and from 250 micrograms to 100 micrograms on windowsills.
The new standard applies to all inspections, risk assessments and abatement activities in various hospitals, childcare facilities, certain schools and housing built before 1978 and was slated to go into effect 180 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.
At the end of December, the final lead abatement rule was announced, upholding the new standards outlined that summer. The standard were officially incorporated into the Section 402/404 lead-based paint activity regulations as well as the Section 1018 real estate disclosure regulations.
The following year, in November, the EPA announced plans to hold property management companies (PMCs) responsible for lead-based paint safety requirements.
The notice intends to improve compliance and strengthen enforcement of the lead-based paint Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as they apply to PMCs that perform, offer or claim to perform regulated renovations without certification from the EPA in pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities.
On Nov. 4, 2021, the EPA published the notice in the Federal Register. However, to hold PMCs accountable for the lead-based paint safety requirements, the EPA must first withdraw previously published answers to two Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning property management companies and their compliance responsibilities under the TSCA and RRP rule.
The intention to remove the FAQs answers was included in the Nov. 4 notice. There, the EPA explains its rationale for the withdrawal, in addition to the circumstances where PMCs are required to obtain certification from the EPA and ensure that renovations in the homes they manage are performed by certified firms and employees trained to use lead-safe work practices.
According to the EPA, this measure is especially important to underserved and overburdened communities, which often include a high proportion of rental housing managed by PMCs, and the military community, where family housing is also often managed by PMCs.
The EPA plans to post a memorandum that states whether the withdrawal will take effect as planned, on March 19, 2022.