Milwaukee Lead Law

Milwaukee Pilot Project Lead Ordinance

In March 1999, the Milwaukee City Council unanimously approved a Community Lead Safe Zones ordinance, a highly targeted three-year pilot project to control lead paint hazards in pre-1950 residential rental properties in two areas of the city. Lead poisoning rates in the neighborhoods affected by this ordinance are as high as 66%, and almost all the dwellings in these areas were built before 1950. One target area is predominantly African American; the other, predominantly Hispanic. Together these areas contain about 1,000 units of pre-1950 rental housing.

Under the law, effective May 1, 2000, owners must control any lead paint hazards, pass a health department risk assessment or reinspection, and procure a lead-based paint hazard control certificate. Certificates are valid for varied terms, depending on the method of hazard control used. The law also authorizes the city to perform lead hazard controls in properties that are out of compliance and levy a charge against the property for up to 40% of the value of the property. The ordinance requires owners to perform lead abatement for deteriorated windows, to stabilize other deteriorated lead paint surfaces, and to maintain the units through essential maintenance practices. Funds from a recently awarded $3 million grant from HUD will be available to owners affected by the ordinance to cover the cost of window treatments (which must be performed by a state-certified contractor) and half the cost of the full scope of work if it is conducted by certified contractors.

Following the owner’s application, the health department will perform a risk assessment and develop a scope of work for the project. The department also will perform a reinspection whenever a certificate is expiring or when the department believes a lead hazard may be present. Retaliation against tenants who complain to the landlord or the health department is prohibited. Whenever a reinspection shows that the unit does not meet the department’s standards for lead safety, any current certificate will be suspended until the unit is brought up to standard. All risk assessments and reinspections are performed by the health department free of charge. The law also requires owners to perform a visual inspection of units and perform “essential maintenance practices” if needed whenever tenants notify them about a suspected lead hazard and whenever tenants vacate units.

Enactment of the Milwaukee ordinance is a major victory for local advocates who conducted an intensive organizing campaign led by Citizen Action of Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Health Department assisted in the development of the ordinance. For further information, please contact Juan Carlos Ruiz at Citizen Action of Wisconsin at 414.272.2562 or Sharon Pendleton, Milwaukee Lead Program Coordinator, at 414.286.5033.