Lead-Paint Regulation Rewrite?

The lead-based paint regulations that came down about a year or so ago really are ridiculous, but what would you expect coming from the EPA?  I would bet that at 80-90% of the work sites in the Twin Cities that an inspector or regulator could find something wrong with the way the contractors are doing their work and fine them $37,000 per incident, per time, per day.  All the while, no ones lives are being made safer given the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (LRRP) rule.

According to the BATC blog, Plumb. Level, & Square, there is an effort by the U.S. Senate to revise some of the rules that they have implemented.  It’s nice to see that someone has some common sense. Senator Inhofe (R-Okla) doesn’t go far enough in my opinion, but it’s a move in the right direction from the extreme nature of the rules.  The proposed bill is called, Lead Exposure Reduction Amendments Act of 2012 (S. 2148).

I remember reading the EPA documents and arguments why they needed to do this.  One of the things they said was it would add only $27 of costs to the average remodeling or painting project.  Contractors I’ve talked with say put two more zeros on there and it might be more accurate.

If you own home built before 1978, expect to pay significantly more for your remodeling work because of the lead-based paint rules.

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EPA Lead-based Paint Regulations – Contractor Fined $150,000

The EPA is stepping up their oversight of contractors who work on properties built prior to 1978 and are suspected of containing lead paint.  I found this story from Bangor, Maine where a contractor is being fined by the EPA $150,000 for the 6 instances where the contractor violated the new regulations according to the new EPA lead paint regulations.  What’s interesting about this is the contractor’s workers were recorded on video which then ended up in the hands of the EPA.  (By the way, I believe the person(s) who tipped off the EPA do get part of the cut of the $150k if the EPA is able to collect it from the contractor).

The fines are certainly bad enough, but the complaint by the EPA goes on to talk about how the actions by the contractor and his workers may have endangered the children who live in the building and nearby where the work was being done.

My question is not with regard to this particular case, but given what was reported from the EPA claim, is it possible that the actions of some contractors be seen as criminal?  I’m not an attorney so I don’t know how this would come about, but if you read the language of the EPA complaint in the above referenced story, it doesn’t seem that big of a stretch to think at some point in the future, state governments might make it a crime.  IF that ever happens, I don’t know how you would ever get another contractor to work on your pre-1978 home ever again.

I’d love to hear what you think.  Comments are welcome.

Is Your Pre-1978 Home a Legal Liability? EPA Lead Paint Regulation May Devalue Your Home

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I was forwarded an e-mail last week from a friend of mine who is a general contractor licensed in the State of Minnesota.  He’s also a Certified Lead-Paint Renovator with the official blessing from the EPA and he’s also registered with the EPA.  (I am also a Certified Lead-Safe Renovator as well, but I have not coughed up the $300 to register my company with the EPA because I’m not sure I want to do any more renovations of pre-1978 houses due to the liability).  He’s let me know he won’t work on homes any longer that were built before 1978.  The liability is not worth it.

So what’s the liability?  Well the biggest liability is that as a contractor, and a contractor is anyone who receives any kind of compensation to any kind of work for someone else – yes, even if all you are given a 6 pack and pizza…you are a contractor.  If you are doing painting, sheetrock repair, flooring, electrical, siding etc, etc. etc. on a home that was built before 1978 you must either test to see if there is lead in the area in which you are working, or you must prep the house as though there is lead in the house.  Now if you test and there is no lead, you are all clear and can do your work however you want.  If you find lead or if you just prep the house as though there were lead, there are many steps involved to do it properly.  Hundreds of thousands of contractors across the county are required to go through an 8 hour class to be trained at professional schools such as Kaplan or perhaps an industry association.  The cost might be anywhere from $100- $250 for the course plus the loss of a day of work of course.  Prior to taking the class BTW, they take a picture of you as well…never before have I experienced that where I attended a certification or professional training where they take a picture for the government.  Nice, huh?

Once you pass the course, you have to register your firm with the EPA.  That costs $300 and I believe is good for 3 years.  They also require that you buy a HEPA vacuum which cost between $500-$700.  You will also need to buy fashionable and  disposable Tyvek suits and lead test kits.

If you are found to be doing work and you haven’t checked to see if there is lead in the house or if you haven’t taken the proper precautions when prepping the home, you can be fined up to $37,000 per incident, per day.  So let’s say you’re rehabbing a home like tens of thousands right now across the U.S.  You could be installing new windows, painting, redoing the floors, painting the exterior.  If you screw up how you prepare the home that could potentially be nearly $150,000 in fines to the contractor.  The contractor might be getting paid $30,000 to rehab the property.  With the $30k, he has to pay his labor, his insurance and the materials.  That doesn’t leave him much and he’s at the mercy of an inspector potentially claiming he’s out of compliance.

The good news is right now the EPA does now have the staff to deal with this.  However, if they get creative and strike a revenue sharing agreement with the states or cities, they could massively hire inspectors and go after contractors all day long.  The opportunity for revenue generation is tremendous.  Of course eventually more contractors would do what my friend has decided to do and say no mas.

BTW, if you’re a home owner you can do what ever you want to your home on your own even though the EPA has said lead is a threat to the health of the nation and you have not been trained to deal with it, they say you are free to do whatever even if you have young children around – they are most susceptible to the lead apparently.

I have talked to hundreds of contractors who have worked on thousands of jobs and often times in rotten conditions with dust.  To a person I have not found a single person who has suffered an illness due to being exposed to lead paint nor have they run in to anyone they know who has suffered a lead paint related illness and yet somehow our government says that 1 million children are affected by lead each year and most of it from paint.  The only stories I hear are the ones about the welfare kids eating paint chips in the inner city.  Because of that they have decided to mandate these new lead safe rules with extensive requirements but it may just be a trap not only for contactors, but also for home owners.

I know this is a long post, but I’m almost done.  IF lead paint is such a problem, then every city in America should require a permit for painting and yet most don’t.  For example, the City of St. Louis Park, MN clearly highlights the need for every contractor to be lead certified in order to do work on your home (there are some exceptions).  This rule goes in to effect today, August 1, 2011.  They provide all the links you need to check up on your contractor.  Be sure to report them to the EPA if they try to give you  a bid but don’t prove they are lead certified :).  And yet, if you read further on the City of St. Louis Park’s web page, you will see that permits are not needed for painting.  What?  So which is it.  Is this important or not?

Okay, so what’s the liability for the home owner?  Well, first of all, the EPA may, over time, continue to ratchet up the requirements for pre-1978 homes.  What I see as the bigger issue now is if you  go to sell your home.  I believe at some point in the near future, there will be real lead disclosure requirements, not like the obligatory one we all use now.  In fact, proof that the contractor either tested the home or that the results upon the completion of the work may be required to disclosure to prospective buyers.  If you have your contractor test your homes and you find lead, be prepared that that must be disclosed when you go to sell.  I’ve talked with other real estate agents. Very few have ever seen anyone admt on a seller’s disclosure form that they have lead in their house.  I’m not sure this is going to go over well with buyers in the future.  Note, as of 2 weeks ago, the EPA waived the requirement for the contractors to do the dust test before completing the job.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you.  You might be asking, but how does anyone know about this new lead paint regulation?  Well, the EPA has a plan to start to advertise the need for home owners to make sure they hire lead-certified renovators.

Lastly, the EPA has estimated that the new regulation will only raise the cost of the average job by $27.  That’s pretty funny.  If you’re having windows put in, plan to pay an extra 20-30%.  That’s slightly more expensive than $27…but only slightly.  That’s okay.  You’ll pay it and be happy because you will feel more comfortable that you hired someone who is certified and you won’t get exposed to lead even though millions of windows have been replaced in America and yet I haven’t heard of a single story of anyone getting lead poisoning from it.

If your contractor is working on your pre-1978 house and he’s not in a Tyvek-like suit that looks like a HAZMAT operation, then he very well might be breaking the law unfortunately.

Tyvek Suit - John S. Jacob Courtesy of Wikipedia

As Budgets Get Squeezed – How Will Housing Be Affected?

Trends in new construction have pointed to American’s changing attitude about building big, new houses.  Perhaps that is just a short term reprieve of the larger houses because of the recession.  However, I think many people need to give thought to how much they should buy when it comes to housing.

The costs to operate that house are only going to go up even if oil and gas are in a bubble.  With the increasing likelihood that the Fed will have to inflate its way out of our financial mess and given that there are a lot of entities that want higher gas prices, expect to pay a lot more for your gas and electric bill for your house.  Also expect to pay higher property taxes.  And if you own an older house, especially one built before 1978, expect to pay significantly more money to have any work done on your home due to the lead ruling issued by the EPA.

Did I forget to mention water?  I know we live in Minnesota and it appears that there is water everywhere, but rest assured, at some point in the near future, it will be cost prohibitive to water your lawn.   I think there might be a fantastic opportunity for a landscape company to come up with a relatively cost-effective way to hard scape an entire yard.  Certainly something like the turf found at any top rated high school football field might work for many lawns.

For the older 4000-5000 square foot homes that are 20-40 years old and out of date, the cost to improve all of that square footage will become cost prohibitive for many future buyers.  Discount accordingly.