Philadelphia Tackles Lead Paint Violations In Residential Rental Properties

Written by: Alan Nochumson


Last month, the city of Philadelphia, by way of ordinance, passed by Philadelphia City Council, amended Title 6 of the Philadelphia Code, titled “Health Code,” further protecting tenants against lead paint hazards and other related violations for residential rental properties built before 1978.

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Due to these newly enacted amendments to the Philadelphia Code, many residential landlords will now be obligated to substantially modify the way they do business in Philadelphia.

The most impactful change in the law is its applicability. Previously, the law only applied to residential rental properties built before 1978 in which children aged 6 years and under resided. The law now applies to all such properties, except for student housing.

Under the law, all such tenants must be given a copy of a certification prepared by a certified lead inspector demonstrating that the residential rental property is either “lead-free” or “lead-safe.”

A copy of a certificate demonstrating the residential rental property is either lead-safe or lead-free must be signed by the tenant and returned to the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health.

In a change under the law, the certification now must also be “accompanied by a copy of the corresponding laboratory results of wipe tests for lead-contaminated dust.”

A residential rental property is deemed lead-safe if it is “free of a condition that causes or may cause exposure to lead from lead-contaminated dust, lead-contaminated soil, deteriorated lead-based paint, deteriorated presumed lead-based paint or other similar threat of lead exposure due to the condition of the property itself.”

To be deemed “lead-free,” the “interior and exterior surfaces of a property do not contain any lead-based paint and the property contains no lead-contaminated soil or lead-contaminated dust.”

To assist such landlords in obtaining the requisite certification, the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health is now required under the law to “maintain on its website a publicly available list of certified lead inspectors and a list of persons qualified to perform lead remediation.”

Under the newly passed amendments to the law, the city extended the time period in which a certification is valid.

Now, a certification is considered valid if the inspection occurred within 48 months from the date in which a housing inspection license is issued by the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections for the residential rental property, or, if no such housing inspection license is issued, the date upon which the parties enter into a new lease arrangement.

Previously, under the law, landlords were only required to provide their tenants with the requisite certification when the parties originally entered into a lease arrangement. The law now includes a certification requirement for lease renewals as well.

Since the law now also applies to lease renewals, such tenants are obligated under the law to cooperate and provide reasonable access to the residential rental property for a certified lead inspector to test the residential rental property in an attempt to obtain the requisite certification or to have any remedial measures performed on the residential rental property if it is not deemed leas safe or lead free.

If the landlord believes that such reasonable access has not been provided, the landlord may provide notice to the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health. The law does not specifically state what happens when such notice is provided. Instead, according to the law, the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health may implement regulations regarding such access to the residential rental property.

Another substantial change to the law is that a landlord cannot obtain a housing inspection license from the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections for such a residential rental property or renew it without providing a valid certification at the time the landlord applies for the issuance or renewal of the housing inspection license.

Furthermore, in all eviction actions regarding such a residential rental property, at the time of the filing of the complaint, a landlord is now required under the law to either submit a copy of the valid certification before the landlord can proceed with the eviction.

The law also creates a rebuttable presumption that all residential rental properties are built before March 1978 and the landlord, in other words, is required to overcome such a presumption.

Under the newly passed amendments, the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Health will now be obligated to publicize a list of all certifications it receives as well as all violations issued under the law.

The city of Philadelphia’s Department of Health is further empowered under the law to test a residential rental property if a child residing in the residential rental property has demonstrated elevated blood levels due to lead exposure. Under the law, a residential rental property may now be subject to testing if it receives “a credible report that a child living at the property has a blood lead level of greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter, or such lower level as shall be established by the Board of Health as cause for significant concern.”

Additionally, the penalties for violations of the law have been stiffened by way of these amendments.

Under the previous version of the law, while a landlord was prohibited from collecting rent during any period of noncompliance of the law, the landlord could nonetheless recover possession of the residential rental property. That is no longer the case. If the landlord is noncompliant under the law, the landlord will be prevented from not only collecting rent from the tenant, but also from recovering possession of the residential rental property.

The law also includes a provision allowing the tenant to receive an abatement and refund of any rent paid by the tenant to the landlord for any period the tenant occupies the residential rental property without the requisite certification.

A landlord or a representative of the landlord is now also subject to imprisonment of up to 90 days for certain violations of the law.

Finally, the law also clarifies that the penalties allowed under the law applies to “any person who fails to comply with the provisions of this chapter, and any person who knowingly participates in any such failure to comply by any other person or who has reason to know that his or her participation will materially contribute to any such failure by another person.”

The law does not immediately become effective as to such residential rental properties in which children aged 6 years and under do not reside.

Rather, according to the law, the city of Philadelphia will be divided into separate regions based upon the percentage of screened children with elevated blood lead levels, as determined by the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Health, and, depending upon what region the residential rental property falls into, the earliest the law will apply for such a residential rental property is Oct. 1, 2020 and the latest it will apply is April 1, 2022.

Reprinted with permission from the October 15, 2019 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2019 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, reprints@alm.com or visit www.almreprints.com.