Three companies which manufactured lead paint before 1978 have been ordered to pay $1.1 billion to ten California cities and counties, including Los Angeles County, San Diego and San Francisco. The cities and counties plan to use the money to remove lead paint from homes built before the lead paint ban was passed in 1978. At least one of the companies plans to appeal.

The winning claim: the paint companies manufactured lead paint for years before the ban, even when they knew it was dangerous for children and the elderly. Even though paint manufacturers stopped including lead in their paints after the ban, lead paint continues to harm communities today.

The federal lead-based paint disclosure is required when selling or leasing a one-to-four unit residential property (except homes sold in foreclosure sales) built before 1978. However, while a disclosure provides legal protection, neither sellers nor landlords are required to remove lead-based paint from pre-1978 residences. In other words, no physical protection is provided to those who live in homes with lead-based paint on the walls. So there’s a need to create safer homes through removal or abatement of lead paint. [24 Code of Federal Regulations §35.86; 40 CFR §745.103; see first tuesday Realtipedia Real Estate Practice Chapter 31 “Lead-based paint disclosures”]

Making the paint manufacturers pay for removing lead paint is one way to get the job done. Other states (Massachusetts comes to mind) force the property owner to shoulder the cost of removing lead paint in pre-1978 homes. This is less than ideal, although a spokesperson for the paint companies insists landlords are the proper party to hold responsible for removing lead paint from pre-1978 homes.

An estimated five million housing units contain lead paint in the affected counties. In these areas, 60,000 children contracted lead poisoning from just 2007-2010. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, convulsions and other serious health problems.

If your clients are concerned by the lead-based paint disclosure, be sure to inform them of lead abatement programs. These programs are a good alternative to limiting their home search to homes built after the lead paint ban. For more information, visit