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Published: Winter 2005

The New York City Council enacted Local Law 1 of 2004 to ensure that small children not be exposed in their homes to the danger of ingesting lead-based paint where paint chips or paint dust may be present due to poorly maintained painted surfaces and friction surfaces. At the time, CNYC advocated long and hard to have the City Council recognize the home owner status of shareholders and unit owners in cooperatives and condominiums. As a result, Local Law 1 contains two important paragraphs, the first acknowledging that co-op and condo owners are responsible for the interior of their apartments, and the second stating that owner-occupied units are not subject to the inspection requirements enumerated below, which must be done in all units that are rented. Naturally, cooperatives and condominiums must employ lead-safe practices when work is done in any public areas.

Because Local Law 1 functions on the presumption that any building built prior to the outlawing of lead paint in New York City may contain lead-based paint, many lead-free buildings may currently be complying with its requirements.

In the article that follows, environmental consultant Josh Sarett of ALC Environmental Inc. explains the process for obtaining permanent exemption of an apartment or an entire building from any requirements of Local Law 1 by proving that it is lead free. This testing process can also provide great reassurance to building residents.

One caveat, however: Federal law requires that whatever information is known about lead-based paint be disclosed to potential purchasers. For that reason, seek an exemption only when you are quite sure that there is no lead-based paint present in the area in question.

Local Law 1 of 2004 became effective in August of that year. It applies to all multiple dwellings of more than three units in New York City constructed prior to 1960 and many constructed prior to 1973. It assumes the presence of lead-based paint in these buildings. Compliance with Local Law 1 of 2004 can be expensive and time consuming.

All owners of properties built before 1960, where a child under seven years old resides in a rented unit, must comply with this law. This represents a large percentage of the buildings in the five boroughs of New York City.

The most burdensome requirements of the law include:

  • Finding out if a child under 7 lives in any rented apartment in buildings covered by the law.
  • Visually inspecting those apartments for lead paint hazards annually and upon tenant request.
  • Using safe work practices and trained workers for any work that disturbs lead paint in applicable apartments and common areas, including required repairs of peeling paint.
  • Making apartments ‘lead safe’ on turnover.
  • Cleaning up work areas thoroughly.
  • Having “clearance dust wipe tests” performed when work is finished to make sure cleanup is complete.
  • Keeping records of all notices, inspections, and repair of lead paint hazards , and other matters relating to the law.

Local Law 1 permits owners to have individual apartments or entire buildings tested with an XRF machine to determine if lead-based paint is present. As long as specific testing protocols are followed, a unit or building can obtain an exemption if it is found to be free of lead-based paint.

Many buildings have called upon the expertise of lead inspection firms for getting specific properties exempt from the law in hopes of alleviating some of the long-term financial burden associated with compliance. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has allowed for the use of approved XRF machines for testing building surfaces and components to determine the presence of lead in paint. XRF testing is the only way to get an exemption from Local Law 1. These specialized machines are expensive to own and operate. They contain radioactive isotopes which are regulated by Federal, State and local governments.

XRF testing can cost as much as several hundred dollars per unit, depending upon the size of the apartment. Each unit usually takes under an hour to test and then an extensive report of the findings is sent. A proper report should include a detailed list of all surfaces inspected and a summary of any components found to contain lead-based paint.

Doing an XRF test may seem easy. However, doing it in compliance with the law and preparing a regulation report that withstands the HPD audit and potential EPA audit takes expertise and hard work. Owners should look for experienced inspection firms with a minimum of three years of lead testing experience, EPA licensure, professional errors and omissions insurance, and a quality control plan. Further, owners should check references to determine the inspection firm’s track record.


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