Proactive Rental Inspection Roadmap Summary Philadelphia Case Study

In 2019, Philadelphia updated its existing lead certification program in an effort to address low compliance with the rules, which only applied to rentals where children under 6 resided.  The updated ordinance applies the rules to all rental units, but decreased the frequency of inspections from 2 to 4 years. Without significant new enforcement mechanisms, it remains to be seen whether these changes will lead to higher compliance rates and significant reductions in childhood lead poisoning in Philadelphia.  


Program Design

Who does the inspection?  A certified lead dust sampling technician or a licensed lead inspector-risk assessor. The landlord is responsible for the cost of the inspection. 

Which units are inspected? All of  Philadelphia’s approximately 273,000 residential properties built before 1978, phased in by zip code over two years.  College dorms are exempted.

What do they look for? Rentals must be lead-safe or lead-free. Lead safe means that the property is free of non-intact paint and hazardous dust, based on interior dust samples.  A property is considered lead free where the property has been certified by a licensed lead risk assessor that it does not have any lead-based paint based on EPA/HUD standards. 

How often are the inspections?  Properties must be tested for lead every four years. 

What do you do if you find a lead hazard? The property must be remediated by a contractor certified by the EPA in Renovation, Repair, and Painting.   After the property is remediated, it must be tested again to assure that the remediation has rendered the property lead-safe.  


Accountability and Enforcement

Presume lead in pre-1978 buildings and prohibit lead hazards Yes.  

Require Inspection as a Condition of Renting A landlord needs a lead-safe or lead-free certificate to execute a new or renewed lease or receive or renew a rental license.  The initial requirement began in 2012, but less than 1% of landlords complied.

Rental registration with fees to identify who city should inspect and to fund the program

Yes. A rental license costs $55 and must be renewed annually. Reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2016 states that only about a third of rentals were registered.

Ensure adequate staffing and technology to support the program

Philadelphia is working on building technology platforms to support the program.  Currently, landlords must mail, fax, or scan and email a copy of the certificate, and (for the lead safe properties) include a copy of the dust wipe test results, to the Department of Public Health.  While the number of private inspectors is uncertain at this time, the health department offers training for a dust wipe technician to do lead-safe certifications for $150 and a five-day instruction for a certified risk assessor to do lead-free certifications for $700.

Escalating administrative fines/tickets for non-compliance that city collects and deposits in fund to support the lead program

Landlords can be fined $300 dollars and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days for each offense for each residential unit and may be fined $2000 for failing to comply with a lead-related order.  Philadelphia had done little to enforce the law prior to the revisions, and it remains to be seen as to whether the landlords will increase compliance and the city will step up enforcement if landlords fail to do so.

Tenant protections 

The “Tenant Protection Against Retaliation” section of Philadelphia’s ordinances prohibit landlords from taking retaliatory action against tenants who exercise their rights.  

Illegal retaliation includes raising rent, shutting off utilities, or attempting to evict. 

Legal mechanisms: Create private right of action for tenants whose landlords violate the law and Limit eviction proceedings to units with no violations 

Any tenant may enforce the provisions of the lead disclosure laws. A prevailing tenant is entitled to actual damages, plus triple the monthly rent for each violation, attorneys’ fees, and costs.

Philadelphia established a “lead court” in 2002, which could provide a focused mechanism to enforce lead laws. However, the city rarely brings enforcement cases there, with only 121 cases there in 2015.

Public database of all rental units and inspection results No. The Advisory Group recommended that Philadelphia improve data collection and data sharing between the Department of Public Health and Licenses & Inspections, including the creation of a process allowing the Department of Public Health to determine if landlords who certify on their rental license applications and renewals that they have submitted lead free or lead safe certificates have done so. 

Periodic reporting of number of units inspected and results + metrics to determine effectiveness. 

There are no specific requirements in the law for reporting or metrics.

Philadelphia Department of Public Health regularly reports the number of children with elevated blood lead levels. However, in 2015 only 41% of Philly children were tested twice by the age of three. With low testing levels, it will be hard to gauge the success of the program in reducing childhood lead poisoning in Philadelphia.

Public oversight mechanisms There are no specific public oversight mechanisms in the law. 

Revolving Fund to help landlords with repairs No.  However, funding may be available to help a landlord address lead hazards in a home if a child living there has tested with an elevated blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater. 


Ecosystem considerations

Meaningful stakeholder input in design and oversight 

The Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group was convened by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in December 2016 to review the city’s lead poisoning prevention plan, “LeadFree Kids: Preventing Lead Poisoning in Philadelphia,” and to offer additional recommendations on how the City and other entities can reduce lead poisoning in Philadelphia.   The Advisory Group included representatives of city and state government agencies, healthcare providers, landlord organizations, advocacy groups, philanthropy, City departments, and other stakeholders. The Advisory Group released draft recommendations in early March 2017 and accepted public comment on those recommendations by email and in person at a public comment session. The Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group’s Final Report and Recommendations were informed by public comment and subsequent internal discussion and were submitted on June 20, 2017.  


Do the math: budgeting and reducing harm 

Lead-safe certifications cost about $150. Lead-free certifications cost $350.  Landlords opposed the bill because control measures would be too costly. The department of public health estimated proper lead control  would take an average of three days and will cost no more than $1,500 per unit. Landlords claim that it is still too much cost for a low-income landlord.


The program requires interim measures to address lead hazards when they are identified, but only requires inspections every four years. (The prior policy required inspections every two years.)  Given expert advice that interim measures last approximately two years, it is possible that housing without sufficient maintenance will experience lead hazards for a year or more before housing is re-inspected.  Philadelphia should monitor this issue closely and consider more frequent re-inspection, or the city itself should initiate proactive inspections in susceptible housing units after two years. Also, the landlords who convinced the city council to change the inspection requirement to four years should now lead the culture change among landlords to one of compliance.  Without compliance and enforcement, the much-lauded change may actually weaken Philadelphia’s effort to curtail lead poisoning.