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D.C. could impose tougher lead testing requirements for rental housing

A new bill seeks to further protect families from health hazards

A swab test for toxic lead paint turns red, testing positive on an old window frame.
J. Bicking/Shutterstock

On Tuesday, a majority of the D.C. Council preliminarily endorsed new legislation that would make it easier for District renters to know if housing contains lead-based paint hazards, and to pursue legal action against neglectful landlords when significant lead levels are suspected.

A bill proposed by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen would require landlords to provide tenants with evidence that a property or unit is free of lead paint or that exposure risks have been mitigated. Such information would be furnished upon lease signing or renewal via so-called “clearance reports” compiled by certified inspectors. Additionally, landlords would have to submit these reports to the District when attempting to renew their rental licenses.

Lead can result in developmental issues in young children when ingested in high levels. It has been banned in home paint since the 1970s, and under current D.C. law, landlords are required to disclose when it is present in residential buildings that were built prior to 1978. Elevated lead levels have been found in buildings owned and managed by the District, too.

In proposing his bill, Allen cited a recent report in the Washington Post about children who had suffered lead poisoning while their families were residing in housing subsidized by the government. “We need to give District residents, especially families, peace of mind and the protection of the law to know their home isn’t putting the health of their young children at risk,” he says in a statement. Allen adds that his bill is “consistent with our current science.”

The legislation would establish several other policies governing lead-based paint in rental housing. It requires the removal of all molding and baseboards that contain lead paint, as children could end up biting lead paint that is present in deeper layers, and it also permits tenants to sue landlords in D.C. civil court through what’s known as “private right of action.”

Moreover, the bill would reduce the legally acceptable levels of lead exposure and mandate examinations for units where children under 6 test positive for any amount of lead. It would relaunch a city-run fund to help landlords remove lead hazards from their properties as well.

Allen’s legislation drew praise from the District-based Children’s Law Center, which called it “groundbreaking.” Seven other of the Council’s 13 total members cosponsored the effort on Tuesday. A hearing on the legislation is expected to occur this fall before formal votes on it.