Landlord is painting the house and not dealing with lead exposure

We rent an old house in Berkeley.

Recently the owner has started to have his handymen do work which is disturbing the paint, the underlying layers being lead based. They're scraping the exterior in preparation of painting and we became concerned when we realized the workers were just letting the paint chips fall on the ground outside and doing minimal clean up. We hired a professional to come out and take samples out to an independent lab for analysis. Samples included fallen paint chips that weren't cleaned up, flaking paint that came off when the sampler picked at it, from the soil in the front and back yards, and around the exterior stairways. Unsurprisingly, all were over the EPA limits by 2-3x depending on location and type. We're concerned for our child (3 y.o) as he still touches and puts everything into his mouth.

Fellow parents of young toddlers living in lead-ful environments, how do you deal?? My partner now sees lead everywhere in the house and around the property (real or not) and is convinced that we need to move for everyone's safety (especially since the owner has been non-responsive to our concerns). There's paint dust and chips all around. And word is they will be replacing windows in the near future an disturbing more lead paint around the openings, and then electrical (it's knob and tubes), which means more cutting and sawing into the walls. I like our neighbors and do not want to move as it would be a huge disruption to our hectic lives, but my partner dreads having to deal with the owners workers every time they are over working on the property, and it's affecting our home life. Looking for advice, stories, etc...

Parent Replies

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I’d contact the Berkeley Rent Authority. They are really great about helping tenants protect their rights. Lead is not something to mess around with around toddlers especially.

I have always lived in older homes. All homes built before 1978 have lead paint. I have raised three children, and they all survived and grew up to be healthy young adults.

Contractors who deal with lead paint are required to be certified and follow certain practices when working and cleaning up, to minimize the release of lead dust or chips. Replacing windows would be a good thing since much of the lead exposure comes from older window sills and jambs. Every time these windows are opened, there is friction, and over time lead dust can rub off. 

I recommend that you move to a newer home, since you have such big concerns. There is no way to rid an old house of lead completely, and so you likely will never be comfortable living there. Even if lead is contained, eventually it will start chipping again. I've been on the other side of this issue as a landlord. It's a burden for property owners, too, since lead containment/abatement is so costly. The paint manufacturers have a lot to answer for, since they marketed and sold lead paint for many years, knowing it was dangerous, but that is a whole other issue. Good luck!

By law, any house that may have lead paint must use lead-safe procedures for housepainting and window replacement. This is a highly regulated area, and there are specific safeguards that must be taken. Your landlord is breaking the law. At this point, it might be necessary to vacate the premises (since it is now toxic); one route may be to take your landlord to small claims court to cover the moving expense (I am not a lawyer so don't know what to specifically recommend; just brainstorming). So sorry you are dealing with this unlegal and unsafe situation. Details on lead-safe renovation here:

I don't understand why you haven't confronted the landlord about this! Did the landlord disclose the lead paint before renting to you? If not, you can threaten to sue. The workers are required to have completed training on how to deal with lead paint. This may be helpful:

Clearly several of these regulations are being ignored. You must stand up for yourselves with the landlord rather than fretting over how to handle the toxic dust or trying to talk to the contractors. This is absolutely revolting behavior on your landlord's part. 

Contact the California Department of Health Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program: They should be able to help you.

I owned a fourplex in Berkeley where I lived and rented out three apartments for years. Speaking from my experience as both a landlord and a parent, I would not take this lightly. What your landlord is doing is dangerous and illegal.  It is assumed that any older houses in this area are contaminated with lead paint.  He needs to be using a painter with certified lead abatement skills. (There is a whole state process to get such a certification.). If I were you I would call the City offices or the Rent Board immediately. I honestly would not hesitate - you are totally in the right here, plus your son is at risk.