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RENTAL SAVVY

Disclosures clear air of potential problems

March 30, 2003|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Maybe you've seen those large signs tacked up by a supermarket entrance or on an apartment building: "Warning: Chemicals known by the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm may be found on these premises."

Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The list has blossomed to 750 chemicals since first published in 1987. Businesses with 10 employees or more are required to give a "fair and reasonable" warning before knowingly exposing anyone to a listed chemical.

A fact sheet with information for tenants whose managers or owners have posted or distributed Proposition 65 warnings is at www.oehha.org/prop65/back ground/P65ten.html. A fact sheet published by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is available at www .oehha.ca.gov.

As a result of legal action and response by lawmakers, more warnings and disclosures are becoming part of the landscape. They attempt to communicate details that could be unnoticed or unknown and help stem the tide of litigation flooding the court system.

Lead brochures, munitions warnings and several more disclosures are now part of most lease agreements. And while disclosures are meant to inform and give closure to issues of concern, they sometimes open the door to more questions.

Defined as "to reveal, make known," disclosure brings into view such possible hazards as leaded paint. According to the federal publication "Healthy Indoor Air for America's Homes," an estimated 57 million households may have lead-based paint (www.pueblo.gsa.gov).

Lead paint was voluntarily reformulated by the paint industry in 1940, with a final elimination of lead by 1978, as federal law required. In 1978, with lead banned, most places legally painted over it with non-lead paint.

With at least 25 years of non-lead paint covering the surface, paint in good condition poses little risk, with one possible exception. Children younger than 7 suffer lead's effects most profoundly, since they are growing quickly.

Anemia and slowed growth and development have occurred in children who ingested lead through playing with paint chips or inhaling paint dust during renovations.

Peeling paint should be reported to the landlord for repairs. A simple blood test can detect lead levels. For more information, visit www.epa.gov or call the National Lead Information center at (800) 424-LEAD (5323).

Disclosures and notice requirements are similar. Generally, landlords disclose, and in response, tenants may need to give notice of a condition.

Mutual disclosure is a relatively new feature showing up on some leases. For example, mold has been an item of growing concern. Mold disclosure law does not exist, but most leases now contain some language that requires a tenant to inform the landlord if mold is detected. Prompt action from both parties should abate this potential problem.

Leases also include disclosures regarding the availability of databases that allow tenants to check if registered sex offenders live in the area.

The state attorney general has a detailed Web site (caag .state.ca.us/megan/) for more information.

A property that is for sale has to be disclosed to the renter before a lease is signed.

The disclosure of possible explosives is also required, just in case a munitions test was done in the area.

While some disclosures seem farfetched, they all serve a purpose: They help create a mutual understanding to prevent problems. Read disclosures carefully, and if you have any questions, get them answered as soon as possible.

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H. May Spitz is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. E-mail questions to Hmayspitz@aol.com, no attachments, please.

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