Exposure to lead should be a serious concern to anyone looking for a place to live. When lead enters the body, it can cause damage to the nervous system and brain. Although this can cause problems in adults when exposure levels are too high, the most serious risks are to children whose bodies are still developing. Children exposed to lead can have lower IQs and behavior, speech and hearing problems. Pregnant women should also be aware of the heightened risks their unborn children face and avoid any exposure to lead.
Why should home buyers or renters be especially concerned about lead? Many older homes contain lead paint. In 1978, legislation stopped the sale of paints with lead in them, but any homes built before that time could have lead paint. When the paint flakes or is rubbed off, fine dust is created that can be breathed in or ingested. Again, small children are at the greatest risk because of their tendency to put things that have been on the floor in their mouths.
The good news for people looking for a place to live is that in the United States, lead paint must be disclosed. Real estate agents, sellers and landlords must all provide any prospective seller, buyer or tenant with a pamphlet entitled ‘Protect your family from lead in your home’, which is available online at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
Realtors must explain to their clients their obligation to disclose the presence of lead paint. The seller’s obligation is to disclose to the buyer any information they know about the presence of lead paint in the home. Landlords must also tell prospective tenants any known information about lead in the building. In multiple-unit buildings, they must also provide information about lead paint in common areas and whether there has ever been lead paint in another unit if it was discovered during an inspection of the entire building. Real estate agents should be careful to ensure that their clients understand and fulfill their obligations, as the agent could be held liable if the seller withholds this information.
Real estate agents and home sellers must give buyers a 10-day window to have the home inspected for lead paint or other lead hazards. Buyers may choose not to have the inspection done, but the seller must provide the opportunity. Some home inspectors are certified to provide lead inspection to put buyers’ minds at ease.
When contracts are drawn up, realtors must ensure their contracts include a ‘Lead Warning Statement’ (available from the EPA) and that the contract confirms that the agent has notified all parties of their duties and provided buyers with all pertinent information. Sellers and landlords must also include the ‘Lead warning statement’ in their contracts to sell or rent.
Because lead exposure can be so harmful when it occurs in the home, it is important for buyers and renters to be aware of their situation before they move into a home. Sellers, landlords and real estate agents are all responsible for protecting the health of the people who will be moving in and are required to disclose anything they know about the presence of lead paint. They must also provide time for proper inspections to occur. The Environmental Protection Agency has all the necessary documents available for free on its website, including a sample Seller’s Disclosure form.