Putting buyer on lookout for lead New law requires sellers to disclose hazards from paint

Applies to pre-1978 homes

A 10-day period for inspecting house also is mandated

September 08, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Property owners selling or leasing homes built before 1978 must disclose any known lead paint hazards and give buyers up to 10 days to inspect for lead or assess its risks under new federal environmental rules.

The requirements took effect Friday for owners of more than four dwellings and will apply to all owners of pre-1978 properties beginning Dec. 6.

Property owners and their real estate agents will share &r responsibility for giving out information that could prevent lead poisoning in homes that might contain lead-based paint.

Owners must disclose any known hazards in writing -- based on previous tests, reports or other evidence -- before prospective buyers or tenants enter into a contract, under regulations developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Owners are not required to test or correct hazards themselves. But they must give buyers up to 10 days to inspect for lead-based paint and assess the health risks if they wish to do so. As with home inspections by prospective buyers, such tests could be written into a sales contract as a contingency to buying a home.

Property owners or their agents must also give buyers and tenants an EPA-produced pamphlet outlining ways to prevent lead poisoning.

Raising awareness

"Hopefully through this, people will become more aware of lead paint and the hazards associated with it," said Gerallyn Valls, EPA's lead program coordinator for the region that includes Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, Virginia and West Virginia. "From a consumer awareness perspective, people will learn what they can do to prevent the next lead poisoning."

Young children who ingest lead dust from deteriorating lead-based paint can suffer brain damage that can lead to learning and behavioral problems later.

The latest statistics available from the Maryland Department of the Environment show that, in 1994, 1,793 children in the state suffered lead poisoning, while another 4,048 had elevated lead levels in their blood. All but about 200 of the children lived in the city, which has a high concentration both of rental properties and dwellings built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned in residences.

Percentage of homes

Lead-based paint exists in nearly two-thirds of the nation's housing stock, according to HUD. But the paint poses a danger only when it chips or peels or is disturbed in a way that stirs up lead dust.

The latest regulations stem from a 1992 federal law that directed HUD and the EPA to come up with rules for disclosure in real estate transactions.

For the first year, EPA plans to focus on helping property owners comply with the law, Valls said.

"This is an important step in the right direction, and it's important VTC that it puts lead-based paint, a major issue in millions of housing units, on the table," said Don Ryan, executive director of Washington-based Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. "This is by no means the solution to childhood lead poisoning."

In Maryland, a lead poisoning prevention law that took effect in February targets rental properties, not homes for sale. Under state law, landlords must register homes or apartments built before 1978 with the state and make repairs to reduce lead-paint dangers.

Landlords must distribute lead poisoning information packets to new tenants, and then on a regular, two-year basis.

Protection

The National Association of Realtors, which worked with HUD and EPA in developing the federal regulations, said the rules protect children's health without placing unnecessary and costly burdens on property owners.

"It's very pro-consumer. It helps buyers know what they're getting," said Lee White, NAR environment director. "For buyers concerned about it; if they want to test they can, if they don't want to, they don't have to. It leaves it up to the buyer and seller to negotiate what happens if lead paint is found and remediation needs to be done."

Real estate agents will now be responsible for passing information regarding the law between the two parties.

'Easy to implement'

Disclosure information can be incorporated into sales or leasing contracts or written into an addendum.

"We think it's going to hopefully be very easy to implement," White said.

A standard sales contract for Maryland being created by the Maryland Association of Realtors will include provisions for buyers to inspect properties for lead paint, said Mary Antoun, MAR executive vice president.

Properties exempt from the law include efficiencies, lofts and dormitories, vacation homes or short-term rentals and housing for the elderly or handicapped, unless children live there.

For further information on the law, property owners can call the National Lead Information Center at 800/424-LEAD.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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