Angie’s List & the Lead Paint Discussion

Angie’s list shops the market; finds lead-paint misinformation & violations

By Guest blogger:
Jo Becker, Education/Outreach Specialist, Fair Housing Council of Oregon

Last fall angieslist.com published a very interesting article for their subscribers entitled “LEAD:  Still Lurking.”  This month I’d like to share some salient points from that article with you.

What follows is portions of the Angie’s List article by Paul Pogue with additional reporting by Kaley Belakovich, Oseye Boyd, James Figy, Staci Giordullo, Garrett Kelly, Lacey Nix, Michael Schroeder, Stephanie Snay, and Cynthia Wilson.

Angie’s List takes lead paint seriously.  That’s why they decided to conduct a “secret shopper” program this year to test contractors and hardware stores about their knowledge of lead safety.

It’s been four years since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented its Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP).  Did awareness about the dangers of lead increase?  Maybe.  Are contractors passing along good advice about lead safety?  Not always.

While interviewing candidates for the project, the last thing a consumer expects to hear is: “It’s just a bunch of B.S., really.”  However, that’s exactly what one contractor told one of Angie’s List reporters.

Angie’s List contacted 150 randomly selected painters, remodelers and window contractors, and 50 hardware stores, in 10 major cities telling them a 2-year-old child’s room in a 1920s house was being renovated.  What, they asked, were the proper methods to strip paint or replace windows?  Nearly 11% of those contractors, and 47% of hardware stores, gave poor advice.  Here are a few examples:

  • “Lead only harms you if you eat it.”
  • “Just close the door, wear a mask.
  • “You might just be able to throw [lead paint debris] in the trash.”
  • “The whole lead thing is very overblown unless your kids are chewing or gnawing on the windowsills.”

While lead-safety awareness has increased, homeowners can’t rely on contractors and their local hardware store to know their stuff where lead paint is concerned.  Your best defense?  Arm yourself with information.

Sadly, Angie’s List staff found that a significant number of those renovation contractors — nearly 11 percent — offered consumers bad advice when it comes to lead safety. But even more disconcerting, nearly 32 percent of those contractors told us they did not have the required EPA lead-safety certification.

Every lead-painted surface contains invisible poison, easily unleashed by scraping, sanding, or melting the surface – all common techniques in renovations.  Lawmakers banned lead-based paint in 1978 but contractors working in older properties operated with very little regulation until the EPA instituted the RRP Rule in 2010.

Nationwide, about 40 percent of the housing stock remains at risk for lead paint, according to the EPA. Angie’s List estimates that number may be higher for its members as 46 percent of them report living in a pre-1978 home.

According Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, director of the EPA’s office of pollution prevention and toxics, “Our certified firms mentioned that they sometimes have to compete with firms underbidding jobs because that firm is uncertified and is willing to work without lead-safe work practices,” she says. “Those firms may be skirting other requirements as well.”

In the past year, Cleland-Hamnett says the EPA stepped up its enforcement efforts against noncompliant firms or individuals.

Going an additional step further to protect their members, Angie’s List excludes any contractor who performs this type of work and fails to provide proof of EPA certification from this service category and keyword searches.  In addition, the site includes a notice on the company’s profile to alert their members of the issue.

“Correct practices are very easy to spot,” according to Ron Peik, owner of a highly rated lead-paint remediation company in Mass. “You should be seeing lots of plastic being set up to contain the area, literally taped down so air doesn’t get in, and windows, ducts and doorways sealed off. Homeowners really should insist on looking at the containment before actual work is executed.”

The most important thing owners of pre-1978 homes can do is hire certified contractors on jobs that disturb lead paint, and verify that the contractor follows the law.

Angie’s List also offers a Lead-Safe Practices Checklist to protect yourself and your property.  You can find it at www.angieslist.com/articles/lead-safe-practices-checklist.htm and additional resources at www.angieslist.com/articles/lead-paint-safety-what-you-need-know.htm.

For help with your own, specific lead questions, call the free Leadline at 503/988-4000.

A reminder that although lead poisoning is especially dangerous for kids, the fear of lead poisoning or liability does not give housing providers the right to deny or discourage families with children away from pre-1978 using.  Familial status is a protected class under federal fair housing law[1] and doing anything to deny or discourage otherwise qualified families is illegal.  Visit www.FHCO.org for more information on this topic.

This article brought to you by the Fair Housing Council; a civil rights organization.  All rights reserved © 2015. Write jbecker@FHCO.org to reprint articles or inquire about ongoing content for your own publication.

To learn more…  Learn more about fair housing and / or sign up for our free, periodic newsletter at www.FHCO.org.

Qs about this article?  ‘Interested in articles for your company or trade association?  Contact Jo Becker at jbecker@FHCO.org or 800/424-3247 Ext. 150

Want to schedule an in-office fair housing training program or speaker for corporate or association functions?  Visit www.FHCO.org/pdfs/classlist.pdf

[1]   Federally protected classes under the Fair Housing Act include:  race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (children), and disability.  Oregon law also protects marital status, source of income, sexual orientation, and domestic violence survivors.  Additional protected classes have been added in particular geographic areas; visit www.FHCO.org for more information.