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Lead-Based Paint Issues

Published: September 27, 2012


The Health Hazards
Lead-based paint and dust and soil containing lead can pose serious health hazards, particularly for children under the age of six and pregnant women. Excessive levels of lead can cause permanent learning disabilities (impaired ability to think, concentrate and learn), behavioral problems and other nervous system disorders. Lead poisoning often does not have obvious symptoms and is therefore difficult to detect. Only blood tests can accurately determine whether an individual has lead poisoning. Iron-deficient children are at much higher risk of lead poisoning, so proper diet can play an important role in preventing high blood lead levels.

Where Lead is Found
Lead-based paint is the primary source of lead poisoning, although attention has recently focused on dust caused by renovation of older homes and soils contaminated by the settling of leaded gas fumes. Houses built before 1960 contain the most lead paint, and many homes built before 1978 also have lead paint. The use of lead paint in residences was outlawed in the United States in 1978, so homes built after that date are considered reasonably safe from lead hazards.

Government Requirements

A. Disclosure. Federal law requires virtually all landlords to provide information to prospective tenants about possible lead hazards.

Landlords must:
(1) Provide a copy of a pamphlet entitled: “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home.” This pamphlet is available in several languages (see “Resources”, below), but most landlords will only have an English version.

(2) Provide a disclosure form identifying any known lead hazards and copies of reports or records (if any) relating to those hazards.

(3) Include specific language in the lease or an attachment to the lease that contains a “Lead Warning Statement” and confirms that the tenant has received the required information.

B. Assessment and Repairs. Federal law also requires that owners and/or operators of housing that is built, operated or financed with federal assistance to take certain steps to assess possible lead-based paint hazards, repair deteriorated paint and control the accumulation of lead-contaminated dust. These regulations are extremely complex; the exact duties of landlords depend on the type and amount of federal assistance provided to that property.

C. State Laws. Some states, notably Massachusetts, require landlords to do much more than federal law requires.


(1) Be Aware of Possible Lead-Based Paint Problems

  • Read the brochure that landlords are required to hand out – Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home (see “Resources” below). Understand the basic information in that brochure. Print out copies of the brochure in languages of your primary resettlement groups (if available), just in case the landlord only provides an English version. Talk to your state refugee health coordinator about any special risks in your area.
  • As you inspect potential refugee housing for families with young children or pregnant women, ask yourself: “Was the housing built before 1978?” If the answer is “yes”, go on to ask:
    * Do I see any peeling or deteriorating paint? Water damage?
    * Have there been recent renovations? If so, has all of the dust and debris been removed?
    * Did the landlord give my client the required disclosures?

If the paint is peeling and the family has young children, either don’t rent the unit or get an expert’s advice on whether or not it’s safe.

(2) Teach Sponsoring Families About Lead Hazards and how to inspect housing they may rent for newly-arriving refugees.

(3) Report Changed Conditions. Encourage your clients to report peeling paint or water damage to their landlord immediately. Follow up and be sure the landlord makes the necessary repairs.

(4) Suggest Blood Tests. Work with the initial health screening agencies to have young children tested for lead poisoning upon arrival, followed by a second test in a few months. Young children who are enrolled in Medicaid and some other state health programs can get free lead tests.

(5) Encourage Good Eating Habits. Milk, red meat, dried beans, fruits, vegetables and cereals help prevent iron deficiencies. Children with iron deficiencies resulting from malnutrition act as “sponges” for lead, even when the exposure is not substantia.

(6) Teach Families How to Clean. Cleaning the house frequently with liquids (wet mopping floors and damp sponging horizontal surfaces) is very effective in reducing children’s exposure to lead dust poisoning.

(7) Understand Your Clients’ Rights. There are very serious penalties if landlords do not comply with the requirements of federal law.

  • If you don’t receive the required disclosures, call 800-424-5323 (LEAD) and report the landlord. Also contact your regional HUD office.
  • If the landlord does not repair peeling paint or water damage, call the regional HUD office and find out if the property is federally funded. If it is, HUD can undertake direct enforcement of their rules about risk assessment and repairs. If the property isn’t federally funded, call the local Health Department, explain your concern about lead, and ask how to get action from the landlord.
  • Call us at Mercy Housing, 303-830-3449, if you need help!


(1) Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home (federally-required disclosure pamphlet), available in:

English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Arabic

How to Print/Order:

  • Call the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-LEAD (5323) to order copies.

(2) Lead – Your Safe Home (brochure created by the University of Minnesota), available in:

Lao, Cambodian, Hmong

How to Print: Go to HUD lead resources.

Note: The brochure is covered by copyright. Order through the University if you need multiple copies.

(3) Healthy Beginnings: Lead Safe Families (free ESL Curriculum Related to Lead).

(4) General Information on Lead Hazard Issues. Go to:


Last Reviewed: November 16, 2016