Buying a House? Know the Lead Laws

Updated September 22, 2014
Federal law requires the seller of any home built before 1978 to disclose known lead paint hazards. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Before you buy an older house, there are certain things the seller or real estate agent are legally required to tell you about potential lead paint hazards.

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If you’re in the market for a home and it’s built before 1978, you have the right to know about and test for potential lead hazards before signing a contract or lease.

As lead-based paint was commonly used in homes before it was banned in 1978, federal law requires the seller of a home, the property manager or the landlord to provide the following to any potential buyer or tenant:

• An EPA-approved pamphlet titled “Protect your family from lead in your home,” which identifies lead-based paint hazards.

• Any known information concerning the presence of lead-based paint in the home.

• A 10-day period to conduct a paint inspection or risk assessment for lead-based paint. Homebuyers may waive the inspection, or the time allotted can be altered if both parties agree.

• Language in the contract, including a “lead warning statement,” that confirms the seller has complied with all the notification requirements.

Related: How to Lower Your Risk of Lead Poisoning

While nearly every one of the homes she sells is at least 50 years old and despite her warnings of potential lead paint hazards, highly rated broker Colleen Malone of Moxie Realty in Portland, Oregon, says most of her buyers are indifferent. “I’ve never had a buyer actually perform a lead-based paint test during the inspection period,” she says. “The majority of them waive that right upfront.”

Should I avoid a pre-1978 house?

Highly rated real estate agents tell us that, while most of their clients are aware that lead paint can be a problem in older homes, they aren’t too worried.

“If they have young kids, they’re usually more inclined to ask questions,” says highly rated Realtor Jason Zisk of Denver. “I wouldn’t avoid a house because it’s pre-1978, but I’d make sure to check out the interior door frames, baseboard trim and investigate for peeling of old paint.”

Highly rated real estate veteran Larry Tollen of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, says in his 25 years as a full-time broker, he’s never encountered any pushback regarding lead paint from a buyer or seller.

“If you have concerns, have the home inspected,” he says. “The biggest challenge these homes present is the added cost of having a licensed contractor who is certified to work on them in a manner that complies with both state and federal requirements.”

Thinking of going shabby chic?

Even if you’re not in the real estate market, what décor you bring into your home might warrant a lead paint inspection. The trend of incorporating old, but durable pieces such as fireplace mantels, wood doors and beams, or vintage signs into your interior design plan could be a potential hazard if they’re painted.

At the end of the day, a real estate agent wants their client to be comfortable with a house purchase, says Realtor Jone Harrison, owner of highly rated The Harrison Team in Flower Mound, Texas. That’s a task that can only be accomplished if that agent is fully disclosing any issues, like lead paint, with the home.

“My job is to ensure my clients are purchasing the best home structurally and a home that fits their needs,” she says.

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