Environmental Health Hazards & Risks in Real Estate

Instructor: Kyle Aken

Kyle is a journalist and marketer that has taught writing to a number of different children and adults after graduating from college with a degree in Journalism. He has a passion for not just the written word, but for finding the universal truths of the world.

There are many environmental hazards and risks that are very important in Real Estate. Many of these hazards have disclosure laws while some do not. Real estate buyers and/or tenants need a real estate agent that is informed enough to ensure they are buying safe property.

Regulation of Environmental Hazards

There are laws and regulations in each state regarding the assessment and cleanup of environmental hazards in real estate. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides federal legislation, and the states also have their own regulatory agencies. If there is thought to be any sort of environmental hazard or risk at a property, there is a process for environmental site assessment. While it may vary amongst each state's regulatory agencies, the general process is similar. It has several phases as follows:

  1. Property Record Analysis & Inspection - This is carried out to examine the property, its current use, and its use over the course of its chain of title.
  2. Hazard Inspection - This second inspection is to carry out specific methods of examining the exact levels and the source of contamination. The initial inspection is geared more towards the activities carried out on the property, while this second inspection is more focused on the actual hazard.
  3. Mitigation & Cleanup/Abatement - In this final phase of environmental assessment, authorities are notified and, if necessary, cleanup begins. With certain hazards, like lead, a total abatement is carried out.

Clearly-Defined Regulations

There are many hazards that can affect the environment and real estate deals. That is why it is necessary to have clearly-defined regulations to deal with them.

Abatement is a cleanup process that will result in a complete removal of any possible hazard. Abatement is overseen by regulatory agencies and may involve methods and standards that are not representative of most residential contractors.

Mitigation refers to policies, actions, or programs that aim to avoid, minimize, or compensate for damages done to the natural environment in real estate.

Clean Up Requirements refer to the practices and processes required by law to remedy environmental hazards. Asbestos, for instance, must be handled by qualified professionals who have proper protection gear such as breathing masks and protective clothing.

While these clean-up processes can be costly and time-consuming, knowingly selling contaminated land can lead to criminal prosecution and fines far worse, which is why it is very important to follow the real estate guidelines and regulation for hazardous materials.

There are quite a few environmental health hazards that all real estate professionals should be familiar with that would merit the above procedures. The following is a list of some of the most prominent environmental health hazards and risks in real estate:

Lead Based Paint (& other lead hazards)

Lead is most commonly found in outdated real estate properties. It was previously used as a mixing agent to create varying pigments in paint. It was also used in pipes and solder before researchers began to uncover the toxic potential of lead. Any property that was built before 1978 should be thoroughly inspected for materials containing lead. Lead can be an issue with land and water, and incinerators can cause an abundance of lead in ground water. This harmful contaminant accumulates in the body over time and causes severe and permanent risks to health, especially in children and adolescents. Lead has been known to lead to developmental disorders in children. It can also cause high blood pressure and limb paralysis in adults. There have been guidelines set to protect consumers from lead hazards in real estate. These guidelines fall under The Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act (LBPHRA). This act has regulations for disclosure, paint inspections, risk assessment, and renovations. Under this act sellers and landlords must give full disclosure to buyers/tenants about any and all lead hazards. This involves the inclusion of a disclosure form in sales contracts and lease agreements.

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