R.I. Eyes Delay in Lead Paint Regulations

June 14, 2004

Lead-paint regulations for thousands of old housing units take effect July 1 in Rhode Island, but real estate agents and a growing number of lawmakers say owners need more time to prepare for the changes.

The legislation with the new rules covers apartments and housing units built before 1978, and was approved two years ago. The state has begun in recent weeks to run an advertising campaign highlighting requirements for landlords that include inspections, attending a seminar and timetable for cleaning up hazards.

House and Senate committees last week considered bills to delay for one year implementation of the law.

Gov. Don Carcieri would support a delay in the date the law takes effect, though he thinks a few more months is all that is needed, spokesman Jeff Neal said.

Newport real estate agent Vincent Marcello runs one of the seminars the state has organized. He said he didn’t receive material for the classes until last month.

“Realtors are struggling, we don’t know what to tell people to do,” he said on Wednesday.

Marcello said many property owners are just finding out what will be required, including certification of an inspection before they can obtain lead-liability insurance. The new regulations would take away the so-called “innocent owner status” that protected landlords from lawsuits over lead poisonings.

The Rhode Island Association of Realtors said the new law will affect an estimated 145,000 rental properties, mostly when they are sold or leased to a new tenant.

Landlords are paying rates for lead-liability insurance that in some cases have tripled since the law was passed, said Rep. William San Bento Jr., an insurance agent who supports a one-year delay.

“This act, while it has noble intentions, unwittingly created a second property tax for people,” said San Bento, D-Pawtucket.

He also questions whether there are enough certified inspectors in the state.

San Bento also argues the need for the law has been lessened by the steady decline in the number of new childhood lead-poisoning cases in the state.

In 1997, there were 2,401 reported cases of lead poisoning in children under the age of 6, a 15-percent incidence rate, according to the Health Department. In 2003, those numbers declined to 1,161 cases and an incidence rate of just under 4 percent.

Other bills being considered would: limit to $5,000 the maximum fine under the bill, extend timetables for cleanup of lead hazards, and create a legislative commission to study the law’s effects.

Carcieri last month launched a media campaign to increase awareness of the new law. In one public service video, the governor is shown with two children seated in his lap and other youngsters surrounding him.

“As a businessman, I know how important it is to protect your investment,” Carcieri said in the video. “As your governor, I realize the importance of protecting the health of the people of Rhode Island.”

The state Health Department has produced brochures and other materials for landlords.

Portsmouth’s Donna Goodrich attended Marcello’s class, where she learned she’ll have to pay for inspections that could cost several hundred dollars for each unit. She has two tenants in Newport.

The retired science teacher said the governor’s video should have come out sooner and included more details.

“I didn’t like the way we really weren’t notified,” Goodrich said. “This (law) is something that should be done, but the person renting will absorb the expense.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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