New Ordinance Pits Landlords Against Public Health

Should landlords be responsible for lead-free certification?

Last week, the City Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee approved an ordinance requiring many landlords to certify their rental properties as lead-hazard free. Sounds reasonable enough, but lots of landlords are peeved. They claim that the cost of hiring inspectors could lead to “short-term rent increases of hundreds of dollars and permanent rises of perhaps $25,” which would disadvantage low-income renters, according to this article.

The ordinance is meant to decrease levels of lead making its way into children’s blood, which can cause brain damage, like delayed development or learning disabilities. Though lead levels have dropped significantly over the past few decades, there is really no safe limit for young children. The article suggests that several thousand Philadelphia children may have too much lead in their blood.

To offset costs, Philly landlords want to restrict the ordinance to units only where prospective tenants include a pregnant woman or a child under six years old. Department of Public Health chief of staff Nina Feyler rejects this stipulation because “a family that is childless may not stay that way.” (Logical, right?) As it stands, the ordinance would apply to all units built before a 1978 ban on lead-based house paint, which would encompass a whopping 95 percent of Philadelphia houses.

Washington D.C. passed a similar lawback in 2009. Though admittedly expensive, it is credited with lowering blood lead levels in children.

What do you think? Should the city save residents and landlords some cash by limiting the ordinance’s reach, despite the potential health hazards to kids? Or is the risk worth the expense—even if you end up having to foot the bill?