Complaint-based lead-poisoning prevention programs are a serious problem because they put the burden on the tenant to report hazardous conditions.
This system wrongly 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 (like retaliation or displacement)
Lead poisoning is an environmental justice issue, focused heavily in communities of color, and tenants vulnerable to lead hazards often have few other options for affordable housing. While nearly all parents of lead poisoned children were unaware of the lead hazards in their home, some parents of lead poisoned children return them to substandard housing believing that being in a home with lead hazards is better for their child than being homeless.
What’s the solution?
Communities that want to seriously address lead poisoning issues must adopt primary prevention approaches. This means they must have a system that actively looks for and addresses lead hazards before children are lead-poisoned. To protect the most vulnerable in the community, these primary prevention programs should have tenant protections including rules against landlord retaliation, ways for tenants to sue landlords if there are lead hazards, temporary housing for families displaced during renovations to address lead hazards, and a process for examining the policy to ensure there are not unintended consequences to tenants such as increased rents or displacement.