Uncertified Lead Renovators Face EPA Fines, Exclusion

Paul Pogue
Written by Paul Pogue
Updated September 23, 2014
Contractors who work in lead paint and fail to get EPA-certified can face sanctions. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

EPA fines companies for violating its RRP rule, and Angie's List adds exclusion notices to contractors whose work requires EPA lead-safety certification.

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Earlier this year, the EPA fined Lowe’s Home Centers $500,000, its largest sanction thus far in enforcement of the RRP program, for violations in record keeping and work practice standards.

Lowe’s agreed to a corporate-wide compliance program to ensure that contractors it hires to perform work for its customers comply with the RRP rule, the EPA says. Calls to Lowe’s for comment were not returned.

Also this year, the EPA issued a fine of $274,000 against 35 home renovation contractors and training providers for not following the RRP standards in various renovation projects.

Angie’s List added an exclusion notice to two of the companies that remain noncompliant: Painting — Done Right! in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Midwest College Painters in Bloomfield, Michigan. The exclusion notice means they’re excluded from category and keyword searches on Angie’s List and a notice alerts members to their noncompliant status.

We tried to reach both companies for comment, but the phone number for Midwest College Painters was disconnected. Painting ­ Done Right! owner Mark Sutton told us he was EPA-qualified to work with lead paint, but declined to comment further. EPA records, however, show his company is not certified to work with lead paint.

Following those EPA sanctions, Angie’s List decided to conduct a secret shopper program focused on lead safety, randomly calling 150 contractors on Angie’s List whose work could involve disturbing lead paint. When 38 companies gave unsafe advice about removing lead paint or offered no cautionary advice at all, we asked the Angie’s List Trade Licensing team to audit them to see whether they were certified by the EPA for lead safety.

In cases where we couldn’t verify certification, the Trade Licensing team sent letters to those companies asking them to either confirm they didn’t work in pre-1978 homes or show proof of EPA certification. Based on the responses we received, or lack thereof, we list the results of those audits at the end of this article.

We also reached out to the 10 excluded companies who gave unsafe advice during our secret shopper calls to ask them about the work they do and why they didn’t hold certification, but we only received responses from a few.

Chip Poss, owner of Custom Home Improvement in Lawrenceville, Georgia, told our secret shopper that lead paint regulations were “a way to scare customers and charge more.” He says he doesn’t remember making that statement, but says he didn’t get EPA certified because he doesn’t scrape or grind paint in older houses.

“Lead paint hasn’t come up and isn’t a problem,” Poss says. “I do very little work in older houses, and usually when I do, the lead paint has already been eliminated.”

In addition to no EPA certification, we were unable to verify trade license compliance for Custom Home Improvement. Angie’s List added a notice to alert members.

A representative of Franco’s Services in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, advised our secret shopper that he could remove chipped paint or paint over it, without mentioning any safety precautions. Owner Franco Rosa says he doesn’t do much work on older homes, and the secret shopper was the first person in years to ask about lead.

“I work on an older home maybe once a year, but they’re all in good condition,” he says.

Even representatives from companies properly certified by the EPA sometimes offered unsafe advice during our secret shopper calls. The person who answered the phone for President Builders in Chicago told our secret shopper that one room wouldn’t be a problem: “In a little space like that, it’s easily contained. Just close the door and wear a mask.”

In a followup call to President Builders, an EPA-certified firm, we spoke to the company’s vice president, Donald Overal, who says the person who gave bad advice handles computers in the office, doesn’t do field work, and should have forwarded the question to him.

Overal emphasized that his company follows lead-safe practices. “I’m the one who went through the [lead safety] training, so they should have directed the question to me and nobody else,” he says. “It’s very important that you talk to the correct person.”

Here are the results of the audit for EPA complinance:

Companies in compliance with EPA's RRP

These companies either confirmed their EPA certification, or verified that they don’t work in pre-1978 homes:

• President Builders Inc., Chicago• MAZ Contractor Services, Houston• CBA Woodworks, Boston• Certapro Painters, Bainbridge Island, Washington• Bedford Builders Remodeling, Providence, Rhode Island• Modern Painting, Santa Rosa, California• Statewide Remodeling, Dallas• West Georgia Home Inspection & Renovation, Carrollton, Ga.• Martin’s Paint and Home Repair, Houston

Companies not in compliance with EPA or trade licensing

These companies received exclusion notices for not confirming their EPA certification, or verifying that they don’t work in pre-1978 homes:

• Weather-All Windows, Siding & Doors, Sewell, New Jersey. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Star Builders and Remodelers, Niles, Illinois. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Joshua Construction, Chicago. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• David Leone Contracting, Boston. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• United Windows, Columbus, Ohio. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Rivas Remodeling Services, Sugarland, Texas. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Studs Remodeling, Webster, Massachusetts• G A Brand Renovations, Newark, Ohio• Artisan Painting, Enumclaw, Washington. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Sustainable Construction & Consulting, Seattle• Kitchen Visions — Carlstrom Construction, Shelton, Washington• Lifespan Construction, Olympia, Washington• All in One Contracting Services, Federal Way, Washington• Statewide Construction & Remodeling, Fife, Washington• The Paint Doctor, Atlanta, Georgia• Chuck Christian Design, Randolph, Massachusetts. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Custom Home Improvement, Lawrenceville, Georgia. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Greg Hughes Handyman & Home Improvement, Chillicothe, Ohio• Franco’s Services, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania• MML Construction, Bellevue, Washington. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• D & D Interior Painting, Boston• Hickey Painting, Englewood, Colorado. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Diamond Painting, Bothell, Washington• Adrian’s Painting, Houston, Texas• Plymouth Home Improvements, Yorkville, Illinois. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• Painting — Done Right! Lincoln, Nebraska• Midwest College Painters, Bloomfield, Michigan. Also excluded for unverified trade license compliance.• ARA Construction in Antioch, California• Countryside Painting, Denver, confirmed they don’t work on pre-1978 homes. Exclusion notice added for unverified trade license compliance.• DJ’s Paint & Wallpaper, Boston confirmed they don’t work on pre-1978 homes. Exclusion notice added for unverified trade license compliance.• Continental Window & Glass, Chicago verified its EPA certification. Exclusion notice added for unverified trade license compliance.

Additional reporting by Staci Giordullo and Brittany Paris

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