Lead-safe law overlooks inspector shortage

A well-intentioned “lead safe” law recently was enacted by Cleveland Heights City Council. Mayor Seren calls it a “housing-based solution” to protect children in rental units. It is not a solution that makes sense.

Lead in paint has been banned since 1978. Many houses and rental units contain old lead paint. It usually is safely overpainted and encapsulated. Children are not busily eating paint chips. Problems occur when dust is created by negligent paint removal, or unreasonable wear and tear. Such dust then can be tracked into households. It can harm small children crawling on rugs who put their hands in their mouths. Otherwise, old lead paint is not hazardous.

Nobody claims all lead paint must be removed from all surfaces. There should [be] public education given to all residents about potential hazards and remedies. Instead, city council has chosen to single out and demonize landlords.

Cleveland Heights has 5,470 rental units in 367 apartment buildings. It has 1,255 doubles and duplexes, most with rental units. Many single-family houses are rented. That is a lot of rental units. And this law will require each to obtain “lead-safe certification” before the city will issue a certificate of occupancy.

To get lead-safe certification, this law requires that every landlord hire a “state licensed inspector.” That will be expensive. And there only are a few hundred licensed inspectors in the entire state of Ohio according to the Ohio Department of Health. That is not nearly enough for the large number of inspections now being required in Cleveland Heights alone.

Many landlords will not be able to find available inspectors for hire. They then will have two bad options: They will rent without obtaining certificates of occupancy and risk punishment; or, they will not rent their units at all and risk financial disaster. 

The new law is unfair. It punishes landlords even if no children live in their rental units. It declares them guilty as a group until they each prove their innocence. And it requires new proof of innocence every two years before their certificates of occupancy are renewed, regardless of any actions they may have taken to prevent potential problems caused by old lead paint.

This regulatory scheme is not well designed, and it will create serious problems.

Alan Rapoport

Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council (1980–87) and as council president/mayor (1982–87).

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Volume 15, Issue 12, Posted 1:46 PM, 11.30.2022