Laws, Rules and Codes for Healthier Homes:
Approaches Impacting Existing Homes
The National Center for Healthy Housing has identified five different, complementary regulatory approaches that have been used to make existing homes healthier and safer. This analysis focuses on regulatory approaches that address current conditions in existing homes. It does not address new construction or how rehabilitation must be conducted in existing homes. Click here for a table comparing the regulatory approaches.
1. Housing/Property Maintenance Code:
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets standards for housing receiving federal assistance. For example, housing funded through Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly known as Tenant-Based Section 8 Voucher) must comply with Housing Quality Standards (HQS). HUD also sets general standards for housing covered by mortgage insurance.
For all other housing, there are no national codes for existing housing or property maintenance. HUD sets standards for the design and construction of manufactured housing and housing receiving federal assistance but does not regulate the maintenance of that housing.
While all states have a code for new construction or major rehabilitation projects, few states have adopted standards mandating minimum conditions in or requiring maintenance of existing housing. In the absence of state standards, most urban and many suburban local jurisdictions adopted a housing or property maintenance code.
The nation’s model housing or property maintenance code is the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). The IPMC is managed by the International Code Council (ICC). Two states – New York and Virginia – and more than 600 local jurisdictions have adopted the IPMC with modifications.
2. Health/Sanitation Code:
There is no national health code for housing. State and local agencies – mostly in the Northeast – have adopted health or sanitation codes that address health and safety hazards in housing. Many urban areas have also adopted vector control programs generally focused on rodents and mosquito harborage.
The leading example of a state health or sanitation code is the State Sanitary Code for the State of Massachusetts. The only model health or sanitation code was adopted by the American Public Health Association (APHA) in 1938 and has not been updated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used this model code as the foundation for its Healthy Housing Reference Manual.
3. Landlord-Tenant Law:
There is no national landlord-tenant law for rental housing. The Federal Lead Hazard Disclosure adopted by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and HUD requires landlords, sellers and their agents to disclose potential and known lead hazards in housing built before 1978. HUD also enforces the Fair Housing Law which requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
Most states and, in the absence of state action, many urban jurisdictions have adopted laws establishing minimum roles and responsibilities for landlords and tenants in rental housing. These codes typically require both parties to comply with the applicable health or housing code. The parties can enforce this requirement through the courts in a private civil suit.
The nation’s model landlord-tenant law is the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) managed by the Uniform Law Commission. Twenty-one states have adopted URLTA.
The federal government is primarily responsible for setting standards for products in commerce that may impact health and safety. These standards reduce the dangers posed by these products by banning their use in housing, requiring safer designs, or specifying label requirements.
EPA regulates pesticides and does not allow them to be sold or used with prior approval. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates most other consumer products related to housing but requires only compliance with general requirements. In response to specific problems, CPSC adopts specific standards to address the problem such as banning lead containing paint. HUD sets standards for formaldehyde in wood in manufactured housing. The HUD label has been widely used as a voluntary standard beyond manufactured housing.
In addition, several national associations including the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), International Standards Organization (ISO), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) adopt voluntary industry consensus standards.
States and local jurisdictions can set standards only when there are no federal standards or when their actions are consistent with or the same as federal standards.
The federal, state and local government set a wide mix of requirements for the management of specific hazards in existing housing. EPA sets standards for asbestos, lead-based paint, and pesticides and has the authority to set standards for radon. HUD sets standards for lead-based paint in federally-assisted housing.
States and local jurisdictions set standards similar to or more stringent than the federal government. They also act in the absence of federal action such as requiring carbon monoxide alarms, requiring treatment of arsenic-treated lumber, or licensing mold or radon assessors or remediators.
10320 Little Patuxent Parkway,
Suite 500 • Columbia, MD 21044