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Published on Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rule on Lead Safety Set to Take Effect

After almost two decades of delays, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it was on track to implement a regulation requiring the construction industry to help prevent cases of lead poisoning among children.

The agency said it expected more than 125,000 renovation and remodeling contractors to be trained and certified in lead-safe work practices by April 22, when the new regulation takes effect.

Under the rule, workers would have to take steps like containing their work area with plastic and conducting a thorough cleanup of lead paint dust stirred up during construction activity, which federal officials say is partly to blame for about 120,000 cases of elevated lead levels in children younger than 6 each year.

Congress passed legislation in 1992 directing the E.P.A. to propose the regulation, but the agency did not finish the rule until 2008, after environmental and public interest groups filed a lawsuit to pressure the agency to issue it.

Some environmental groups are now pushing to make the rule tougher, while builders are warning their clients that it will inevitably increase construction costs. The rule applies to work performed in homes and buildings occupied by children, including schools and day care centers built before lead paint was banned in 1978.

E.P.A. officials said on Thursday that with a housing stock of about 38 million units that are potentially affected by the rule, they expect it to produce results.

“We think it will be very effective,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the E.P.A.’s office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances. “It’s a rule designed to address one of the major sources of lead pollution.”

Lead, whether in dust, soil or paint chips in older and poorly maintained properties, is still the main environmental hazard for children in this country despite significant declines in childhood lead poisoning rates over the last 15 years, federal health officials say. Even at low levels, the metal can cause devastating neurological damage in young children, including a lowered I.Q. and behavioral problems.

Last year, the E.P.A. settled a second lawsuit by public interest groups who said that the renovation regulation still fell short of what Congress had mandated because it exempted work performed in homes that are not occupied by children younger than 6 or pregnant women, among other provisions. Tom Neltner, the co-chairman of the national toxics committee of the Sierra Club, one of the groups that sued, said the E.P.A. had agreed to reconsider the exemptions and propose changes.

Mr. Neltner said he was also concerned that the regulation, while imposing fines of up to $37,500 a day for each violation for workers (the rule does not carry penalties for consumers), will be largely self-enforced.

But he called the regulation “critically important for children” even in its current form.

“The rule could be a game-changer because contractors no longer can claim ignorance,” he said. “Lead poisoning is entirely preventable — these are things that we can fix.”

But, many in the building industry have qualms. Carpenters, painters and other contractors say that federal officials have not advertised the new requirements widely enough and worry that many consumers may be skeptical when they face higher prices.

The National Association of Home Builders, with 180,000 member companies of which 70,000 do remodeling, has asked the E.P.A. to delay the rule to give the public and contractors more time to prepare.

Matt Watkins, an environmental policy analyst with the group, said that out of more than 235,000 contractors nationwide, only about 100,000 workers have so far been trained by E.P.A. approved providers.

“No one’s objecting to the rule itself,” Mr. Watkins said. “We think if there’s lead present you have to do something so that you don’t spread the lead dust.”

Contractors will also be required to invest in vacuums that suck up and trap dust and scaffolding for outdoor projects. Builders estimate the new rule could add $500 to $1,500 per job in time, materials and labor to protect against lead dust migration.

E.P.A. officials, however, said that, except for exterior jobs, following the new work practices would add only $8 to $167 per job.

The new rule does not cover homeowners performing their own renovations, but the agency said that they, too, should practice lead-safe working habits.

Mr. Neltner of the Sierra Club said that homeowners should insist on hiring only certified workers and should report violations as a way to make sure the rule is followed.

“There’s the ability for citizens to fill in even if the E.P.A. reneges on its responsibilities,” he said.

 

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Landlord Knowledge Base

If you’ve ever considered investing in a few rental properties in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA now might be a good time. Prices are still low in Philadelphia, but have been on the upswing. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home in a US metropolitan area grew 13.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, the latest in a 17-month streak of year-over-year price increases. 

New landlords can choose from properties that are likely to appreciate and a large pool of potential renters.Licensed realtor Pat Mueller cites a few reasons for this trend: “Many families have lost their homes to foreclosure and are entering the rentals market for the first time in years. Mortgages are also harder to get now, so fewer people are qualifying for a new one.”The more skills you bring to the table to get into Houses for Rent in Philadelphia Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA and the more time you have to devote to your properties, the faster you can make a return on your investment. 

But investing in rentals can also be disastrous (or too stressful to be worthwhile) without expertise. Here are three professionals you may consult about your new rental properties, and what you can do to mitigate how much they cost you:Handyman:  You may need to hire a specialist for some work on your rental. If you need new outlets or new pipes, for example, hire an electrician, plumber or licensed contractor. Handymen usually tackle smaller, more manageable tasks, like:

  • Painting and paint removal
  • Drywall repair
  • Minor appliance repairs (fixing a leaky toilet or faucet, among others)
  • Installing tiling or flooring, moldings, windows, doors
  • Refinishing decks, cabinets and other wood items

When You Could Skip It: You could do any (or all) of these projects yourself if you have the time and interest in learning. Of course, this only works if you live relatively close to your rentals and are flexible enough to service them on short notice. And if you’re willing to respond to the occasional 5 AM basement flooding.

Average Savings: Any base rates or costs-per-hour vary from location to location in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA , but nationally, you can expect to spend an average of $60 to $85 per hour for repair costs. It general costs less to hire an individual handyman than a handyman employed by a company. Expect an additional charge if your job requires a trip to the store for materials.

Resident Property Manager As the owner of a handful of rental properties, you may be able to manage them yourself, but if you want help, a single resident manager would probably be more cost efficient than a property management company. Resident managers may:

  • Serve as a handyman
  • Advertise vacancies in your units
  • Show apartments to prospective tenants
  • Review rental applications
  • Collect rents

When You Could Skip It: Again, the closer you live to your properties and the more spare time you have, the less likely you are to need a manager. The obligations of being a boss will also cut into the time you save on maintenance.

Average Savings: The national median wage for residential managers is just over $25 per hour. Research the wages in your community and adjust according to how much responsibility your manager will take on. 

Real Estate Agent: Once you’ve gotten your financials in order and done your own research on the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, you might contact a realtor to show you potential properties. You can also arrange for a realtor in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA to show rentals once they’re ready to rent.

When You Could Skip It: It depends. Even if you’re a local, or have thoroughly researched the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, a realtor is a great resource for a first-time rental buyer. Realtors have access to data and statistics not necessarily available to the general public and first-time buyers may not know all the right questions to ask. Using a realtor to fill your Houses for Rent vacancies is less of a no-brainer, depending on your other time commitments or whether you plan to hire a resident manager who could do the same thing.

Average Savings: As a buyer of rental properties, as when buying your own home, sellers typically pay most, if not all, of the buyer’s realtor fees. In this case, Mueller points out there’s little reason not to work with a realtor. For help in filling your units in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA, the services of a realtor would set you back between 10-20% of the unit’s rent per month.  Mueller recommends interviewing with several brokers before making your final decision to invest into Houses for Rent .

The Bottom Line: As a new landlord, you can’t necessarily control the flexibility of your schedule or the amount (and cost) of unexpected repairs to your properties. Rentals are a long-term investment. However, to maximize profits from your Houses for Rent, new rentals, you can buy close to home and start small. It is best to begin with just one or two properties. This will allow you to maximize the time you spend on your properties’ needs, and minimize the amount you’ll have to pay anyone else.

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