As a general rule, the older the home that you rent or own, the more likely that it has lead-based paint.

Seattle’s housing stock is no exception, as consumer use of lead-based paint was not banned until 1978.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly 9 out of 10 homes built in Seattle before 1940 have lead-based paint present, and 25 percent of homes built between 1960 and 1977 contain lead-based paint.

Because of the risk posed by lead paint, rental-housing owners whose properties were built before 1978 are required to disclose known information about the presence of lead-based paint before signing a lease agreement with a tenant.

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These EPA-mandated documents detail the risks associated with lead-based paint, how to handle cleanups, and the owner’s knowledge of any lead-based-paint risks at the property. Tenants renting a home built before 1978 should expect to be provided with the documents at the time of lease signing.

Lead exposure can occur in a number of ways in adults and children. The most common causes are swallowing lead dust that has settled on food and food-prep surfaces, and breathing in airborne lead dust — particularly during home renovations.

The dangers of lead-based paint are most severe for children under the age of 6. Their brains and central nervous systems are still developing, and children’s growing bodies absorb more lead. Exposure to lead can create learning disabilities, as well as speech and behavioral problems, among its many risks.

Minor rental-property repairs that disturb a surface of less than 6 square feet per interior room, or 20 square feet on exterior projects, are exempt from the EPA’s requirement that the owner or contractor be certified. However, any work on larger surface areas must be completed by a lead-certified repairperson.

If the work is being done in common areas, rental owners must distribute pamphlets to tenants. In lieu of distributing pamphlets, informational signs about the renovation or repair work must be posted.

Rental-housing owners are encouraged to get their homes checked for lead hazards. Certified inspectors or risk assessors may be found at

Owners interested in having their pre-1978 properties certified as being free of lead-based paint should contact a certified contractor.

To become a certified renovator, contact the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-5323. All renovators must use work-practice standards that are summarized in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Small Entity Compliance Guide.

Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit