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    City Lead Advisory Committee Hears About “Model” Codes

    The City of Grand Rapids “Lead Free Kids GR Advisory Committee” heard a final report at its meeting in June from a consultant from D.C. funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Child Lead Exposure Elimination Innovations Grant. The consultant, David E. Jacobs, with the National Center for Healthy Housing, presented what the Center feels are the model codes in the U.S. that address lead hazards in housing. Jacobs was keen on the code Rochester, NY has implemented to address the problems with lead in older housing. Jacobs made it clear that he felt Grand Rapids should adopt a similar code.

    The Rochester code requires the repair of chipping and peeling paint and lead dust-swipe testing of all housing built before 1978 (target housing) during the course of a regular rental certification inspection. In summary, the Rochester code is as follows:

    1. City Manager along with health department determines target housing. (In reality, Rochester chose to carryout lead dust swipes for all housing built before 1978 but did so in phases over several years, starting with housing in the neighborhoods with low income residents and children.)
    2. During a regular rental certification inspection, if there is no observable peeling and/chipping paint found during an inspection, the city inspector does a dust swipe in eight locations at random throughout the home to determine if any lead dust hazards exist. The city pays for the test as part of the inspection. If the amount of lead dust exceeds the allowable limit under EPA guidelines, the landlord is ordered to clean the property to remove the hazards. The landlord must obtain and pay for a clearance tests to ascertain the lead hazards have been removed.
    3. If peeling and/or chipping paint are observed, no dust swipes are taken and orders are given to address the disrepair. A clearance test must be acquired after the work is complete. The landlord pays for the clearance tests.
    4. Rental properties that a subject to annual Section 8 housing inspections are exempt from the dust swipe protocol.
    5. The code does not require testing in owner-occupied housing.

    Jacobs further told the Advisory Committee that—though landlords in Rochester threatened that rents would go up and tenants would be evicted if the code was put in place—rents did not go up and there was not an increase in evictions. Jacobs says landlords accept the tests, etc. as part of doing business.

    Connie Bohatch with the City of Grand Rapids reported that the City would have to hire 7.5 new rental inspectors in order to handle the additional workload required under such an inspection program. There are approximately 30,000 rental units in GR built before 1978.

    The Advisory Committee did not discuss or take any action on the report. The Director of the RPOA, Clay Powell, serves on the Advisory Committee along with approximately two dozen other professionals from the City staff, local schools, health departments, children advocate groups and childhood lead poisoning prevention advocates.

    The next meeting of the Advisory Committee will be August 20. The RPOA Board of Directors and Governmental Affairs Committee will be meeting this Friday to discuss the position the RPOA should take if the Advisory Committee should formally recommend codes changes similar to Rochester’s code to the Grand Rapids City Commission. If and when a recommendation comes from the Advisory Committee, the City Commission will likely request that formal meetings between advocacy groups from all sides negotiate the language of a final code change. The RPOA will participate in those discussions and present its position. Code changes require a public hearing and one additional Commission meeting to formally adopt the code. Property owners will have an opportunity to voice their opinions concerning the code before and during the adoption process.

    RPOA members that would like to express their position on lead dust tests should send their comments to Clay Powell at clayp@rpoaonline.org.


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