How often are the inspections?

At the heart of a proactive rental inspection program lies a requirement to inspect homes on a regular basis, without the need for a complaint to trigger the inspection. 

Annual inspections are arguably the most protective of children living in the homes, but they also carry a higher cost for the landlord (who likely would be burdened with hiring someone to perform an annual inspection) and the city (who will then have oversight, auditing and enforcement responsibilities for every unit every year). Unless the city is very, very small with a large number of inspectors, annual inspections would need to be done by third party inspectors.

  • Detroit, Michigan requires rental units that have addressed lead hazards with interim measures to be inspected annually.  Units that have addressed lead hazards with abatement are inspected every three years. This inspection approach is a best practice.
  • New York Citys Local Law 1 requires landlords to visually inspect their rental units for peeling paint annually, if a child under 6 is living in the unit.  While the frequency of the requirement is positive, the ability of landlords to self-certify compliance with the requirement and lack of enforcement by city staff render this approach ultimately unsuccessful. 

Inspections Every Two Years, are a best practice where landlords are not required to fully abate lead hazards.  Given that many interim measures to control lead hazards fail within two years, biannual inspections spread out the inspection and auditing workload while inspecting homes frequently enough to catch lead hazards as interim measures fail.

Three Years or More.  While it is important to adopt an inspection frequency that is realistic and implementable, there is a trade-off when inspection time frames are longer than the length the interim lead remediation measures will last.  If a program requires inspection every four years, but when lead hazards are found, they can be corrected with interim measures that are likely to fail in two years, the program exposes residents to lead hazards from the time the interim measures fail to the reinspection date. 

Sliding scale approach: Other communities have adopted a more nuanced approach, seeking to reward “good landlords” by less frequent inspections. Often referred to as a  sliding scale” approach, these programs lengthen the amount of time between inspections if a rental unit is found to have no violations of the lead law (or other ordinances, if the inspection program looks for issues beyond lead).  While this approach eases the inspection burden borne by the cities implementing the inspection program by reducing inspection frequency, the program may expose children to lead hazards between inspections. For example, if a landlord “tidied up” the rental unit before inspection–touching up paint and thoroughly dusting the unit–the unit may pass inspection and qualify for a six year inspection.  However, paint on friction surfaces such as doors and window sills is likely to wear away and expose lead hazards well before the six year reinspection timeline.  

           This approach therefore reduces the financial burden of the inspection program on the city in exchange for subjecting children to lead hazards for several years between inspections. For this reason, a sliding scale approach is not recommended unless it is coupled with a risk assessment that identifies all sources of lead risk and those lead risks are addressed in a way that  ensures the landlords and tenants know how to identify and address risks between inspections. Also, this approach should be coupled with the ability for tenants to request an inspection–without penalty or cost to them–if they are concerned about lead hazards.

  • In Los Angeles, California the Housing + Community Investment Department conducts  periodic inspections of the residential rental units, inspecting all Tier 1 residential rental properties at least once every 4 years and Tier 2 residential rental properties at least once every 2 years. Los Angeles began implementing this tiered system in July 2018, inspecting every four years for compliant properties or two years for non-compliant or poorly maintained properties. Non-compliant properties were identified as having a history of multiple cited violations, complaints, and failure to resolve violations within the mandated time frame.
  • In South Bend, Indiana the time frame for Certificate renewal depends on the condition of the property and compliance with rental inspectors. If multiple inspections are required to verify safety, then the property will receive a certificate that requires more frequent reinspection and renewal (1-3 years). Properties that pass on first inspection or require minor repairs will receive a certificate with a longer period of time before renewal is due (up to 5 years).
  • In Toledo, Ohio the expiration date of a “Lead-Safe Certificate” depends on whether the unit passed or failed the visual and dust wipe test. If the property initially fails the initial visual inspection or dust wipe test, the certificate expires in 3 years.  If the property passes the initial visual and dust wipe inspection, the certificate expires in 6 years.
  • Battle Creek, Michigan . Typical rental  permits are valid for 3 years; if there were no previous problems recorded during inspection, some buildings will qualify for a longer, 6-year permit.  Unfortunately, Battle Creek’s inspection process is only a visual inspection, which does not conform with best practices as a lead primary prevention approach.
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan uses a sliding scale approach in its certificate of compliance program for its rental properties.   Each rental property must be registered and undergo a visual inspection on a regular schedule. The schedules are on a two‐, four‐, or six‐year cycle, with bad actors given two years and those with fewer violations given four to six years. Grand Rapids’ policy only prohibits loose paint particles, which is not a lead primary prevention best practice.

Grand Rapids’ ordinance enacting this sliding scale approach for Certificates of Compliance is included here, as an example:

Validity of Certificate of Compliance.

(1) Six-year Certificate of Compliance. A Certificate of Compliance shall be valid for no more than six years. Each Certificate shall contain an expiration date. For any rental dwelling containing at least one rental unit, a six-year Certificate of Compliance shall be issued provided:

       (a) The property has been owned by the same owner since the last certification.

       (b) The property has no recorded or verified violations since the last certification.

      (c) The property owner contacts the City for a Certificate of Compliance inspection within ninety (90) days prior to the expiration of the current Certificate of Compliance.

     (d) The property is registered prior to the expiration of the Certificate of Compliance.

      (e) No outstanding fees, taxes, or assessments are assessed against the property.

(2) Four-year Certificate of Compliance. For any rental dwelling containing at least one rental unit, a four-year Certificate of Compliance shall be issued provided:

     (a) The property owner contacts the City for a Certificate of Compliance inspection within 90 days prior to the current Certificate of Compliance expiration date.

     (b) The property is registered prior to the Certificate of Compliance expiration date.

     (c) The property is brought into compliance either prior to the Certification expiration date or within the time frame provided in the Notice of Violation, including deferred due dates. The Notice of Violation shall be issued before the Certificate of Compliance expires and shall serve as a temporary Certificate of Compliance.

(3) Two-year Certificate of Compliance. For any rental dwelling containing more than one rental unit, a two-year Certificate of Compliance shall be issued if all of the conditions of either a six-year Certificate of Compliance or four-year Certificate of Compliance required by Section 1000.3(1) or 1000.3(2) have not been met.


Upon Request: Some communities have programs that allow tenants to request inspections of the rental units.  This approach can supplement a periodic inspection program, but a rental inspection program should not be only upon request.   Complaint-based systems are a serious problem because they put the burden on the tenant to report hazardous conditions.  

    This system assumes that:

    • tenants know the risks of lead and how to identify lead hazards, 
    • tenants know to whom they should report unsafe conditions, and  
    • there are no risks to the tenants for reporting.

 These assumptions are WRONG.  Lead poisoning is an environmental justice issue, focused heavily in communities of color.  A 2016 study by Harvard University researchers shows alarming racial disparities in toxic exposure, even after accounting for possible structural explanations. The research also demonstrates the power of public health policies to reduce racial inequities.  Tenants vulnerable to lead hazards often have few other options for affordable housing.  Many parents of lead poisoned children were unaware of the lead hazards in their home. Some parents of lead poisoned children have returned them to substandard housing knowing the risks, but believing that being in a home with lead hazards is better than being homeless.

Change in Occupancy.  Some communities require inspections in occupancy.  Maryland has adopted this approach.  The benefit of requiring inspection at change in occupancy is that it is often easier to inspect a unit without tenants living in the unit.  However, requiring inspection only at change in occupancy is insufficient to protect children from lead hazards, particularly in communities where families often stay in a unit for many years.

Target High-Risk Neighborhoods.  One approach several communities have adopted is to target high-risk communities with inspections.  Targeting high risk neighborhoods can take many forms, including inspecting rentals in high risk neighborhoods first or more frequently, requiring more stringent methods to identify lead hazards in high risk areas, or some programs that only do inspections in high risk neighborhoods.

  • Philadelphia’s updated rental inspection law, which goes into effect in October 2020, applies to rental units on a rolling basis, expands the inspection requirements to all homes (not just units where children under 6 live)  to the rental units in zipcodes with the highest rates of lead poisoning first. Here is the legal language Philadelphia used to formalize this targeted housing approach:

Transition Period. 

(1) Notwithstanding the definition of Targeted Housing provided for at § 6-802(12), dwelling units in which children aged six and under do not and will not reside during the lease term shall only qualify as Targeted Housing according to a transition schedule established as follows: 

(a) For each active zip code in the City, the Department shall certify, by posting prominently on its website, the percent of screened children living in such zip code area with elevated blood lead levels (BLL) ≥5 µg/dL, over such period of time as the Department of Public Health deems appropriate. The Department shall post the zip code areas in rank order, beginning with the zip code area with the highest such percentage of screened children with elevated blood lead levels and continuing through to the zip code area with the lowest such percentage of screened children with elevated blood lead levels.

(b) There shall be four regions of the City, defined as follows: The areas of the City comprising the eleven highest ranked zip codes shall constitute Region 1. The areas of the City comprising the next eleven highest ranked zip codes shall constitute Region II. The areas of the City comprising the next eleven highest ranked zip codes shall constitute Region III. The remaining areas of the City shall constitute Region IV. The Department of Public Health shall post prominently on its website the zip code composition of each Region, and shall file a copy with the Chief Clerk of Council. 

(c) Dwelling units in which children aged six (6) and under do not and will not reside during the lease term shall only qualify as Targeted Housing as follows: 

              (.1) From October 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021: only in Region I. 

              (.2) From April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021: only in Regions I and II. 

              (.3) From October 1, 2021, through March 31, 2022: only in Regions I, II and III. 

              (.4) From April 1, 2022, and thereafter: in Regions I, II, III and IV. 

  • Rochester, New York’s lead inspection program, which dates back to 2006, requires visual inspection for lead in all units.  In units in high-risk neighborhoods, where a visual inspection does not identify lead hazards, the inspector performs  a “dust wipe clearance” test to confirm that the unit does not have lead dust hazards. As Professor Katrina Korfmacher explains in her book Bridging Silos, Rochester’s Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning argued that visual inspections were insufficient because “visual inspections cannot detect invisible lead in dust.”  (Bridging Silos at 99.) The city was concerned about the costs of implementing a risk assessment, which would identify lead dust hazards, because the risk assessment would cost approximately $400. The Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning supported the dust clearance approach, which  costs $150, as a compromise that would identify lead hazards in the highest risk units, while avoiding the higher cost of a risk assessment. Rochester identified the high-risk areas based on historical health department blood lead screening data.  Further, the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning adopted “five principles of an effective lead law,” the first principle being a targeted roll out that would protect the kids at greatest risk first. 

Here is the language Rochester’s lead law uses to define a high risk area and require dust lead clearance for units in high risk areas:

All inspections… shall include a visual assessment for deteriorated paint and bare soil violations. With respect to units in structures containing five or fewer units and located in the high-risk area identified by the Mayor or the Mayor’s designee, when the visual assessment identifies no interior deteriorated paint violation, the owner shall cause dust samples to be taken and certified test results to be obtained… to determine whether a dust-lead hazard exists.

The high risk area to be identified by the Mayor or the Mayor’s designee shall, at a minimum, consist of those census block groups which cumulatively encompass an area in which no fewer that 90% of the units identified by the County Health Department for inspections in conjunction with its elevated blood-lead level inspections for the period of the preceding five years are located. 

  • Chicago has used predictive modeling to identify highest risk properties for the city to inspect for lead hazards.  While predictive modeling may be useful to identify high-risk areas, limiting lead hazard inspections to only high risk areas is not a best practice.