Lancaster landlords and real estate professionals gave City Council an earful about a proposed lead hazard ordinance Tuesday evening, agreeing that lead is a problem but calling the measure an overly expensive and cumbersome way to solve it.
“This is going to be a cost,” said Gary Neff, owner of City Limits Realty, one of half a dozen business people who spoke.
Because landlords’ expenses are ultimately borne by tenants, the program should be made as cost-effective as possible, he said.
The ordinance would, among other things, require rental-property owners to certify once every four years that their properties are lead safe or lead free.
Lead-safe properties can have lead paint on the premises, as long as it’s fully encapsulated. Safety would be determined by a swab test, done by the city for $250 or by a qualified private company, which also would cost around $225 to $250.
Rather than vote at the next meeting, Feb. 28, council plans to postpone action until March 14.
That will give officials more time to have discussions with the people who will be affected, said Randy Patterson, director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization.
An email with information on the ordinance will go out shortly to all of the city’s registered landlords, he said.
The city’s motive, he stressed, is public health, namely “the impact of lead paint on children.”
Even small amounts of lead can permanently harm a child’s brain development. Lead paint was banned in 1978. Houses built before that — the majority of the city’s stock — potentially contain lead hazards.
“I am 100 percent for this,” said Noah Miller, a neighborhood activist, landlord and City Council candidate.
However, he warned the council about potential unintended consequences: houses that can’t be sold because of abatement costs, eviction of tenants during abatement, and, of course, the cost.
Neff said it’s easier and safer for landlords to remediate properties when they’re vacant and suggested making implementation of the measure flexible enough to facilitate that.
The city’s existing inspection protocol already checks for peeling paint, landlord Sheldon Weaver said. Instead of more testing, it might be more cost-effective “to just go directly to lead control” when deteriorated paint is found, he said.
Landlord Robert Seuffert said it doesn’t make sense to keep charging property owners every four years if there’s no evidence of a problem.
There are about 10,000 rental units in the city, so at $225 per clearance test, the ordinance imposes a minimum added cost of $2.25 million every four years, he said.
He asked if the city plans to impose a similar mandate on owner-occupied properties next: “Where is the end going to be?”
Councilman James Reichenbach told the landlords that council members recognize that concerns over cost are valid. That’s why City Council is pushing state legislators and the Department of Health for a comprehensive state program.
“This problem is being chronically underfunded,” he said.