Proactive Rental Inspection Roadmap Summary Rochester Case Study

Rochester adopted its lead law in 2006. By 2012, the City of Rochester had seen more than an 85 percent decline in children with elevated blood lead levels; this decline was nearly two and a half times faster than in the rest of the state (Kennedy et al. 2014). This rapid decline in lead poisoning suggests that the community was able to create an effective local system for lead poisoning prevention.


Program Design

Who does the inspection?  City of Rochester, dust clearance by third party inspectors

Which units are inspected? All rentals built before 1978, city does Quality Housing Initiative inspections of public housing for county 

What do they look for? Code enforcement, lead dust clearance if no deteriorating paint found in high-risk homes. In addition to lead issues, the Inspector will look for such items as: paint and trim; fire protection requirements; stairs and handrails; roofs; gutters; accessory buildings; interior mechanical systems such as heat, electric and plumbing; interior and exterior structural soundness; and space requirements.

How often are the inspections? Typically every 3 years, prioritize high risk areas (estimated 4,500 certificate of occupancy inspections, 8,000-10,000 public housing inspections, and 2,000-4,000 complaint inspections per year. Inspected 16,449 units for interior deteriorating paint in Year 1. By year 13, 180,030 units inspected for interior deteriorating paint.)

What do you do if you find a lead hazard? Must do at least interim lead control measures using lead safe work practices. All contractors receiving city permits for renovation of all pre-1978 homes, rentals and owner-occupied,  must show proof of RRP certification


Accountability and Enforcement: Sticks and Carrots

Require Inspection as a Condition of Renting Certificate of Occupancy: multiple dwellings, mixed use occupancies that have at least one dwelling unit, and one or two family dwelling which is located in the Lead High Risk Area where interior deteriorated paint is found and remedied by means of applying Interim Controls must be renewed after three years.  One and two family structures are renewed every six years

Rental registration to identify who city should inspect and to fund the program Submitted during renewal of certificate of occupancy. Include Owner’s name – must be a natural name. If an LLC, must list name of a manager, principal or agent; Mailing address – cannot be a post office box; Business phone number; local point of contact.


 Fees for certificate of occupancy:

Unit Fee
Single Family $60.00
Two Family $80.00
Three Family or more $100.00 + $10/unit over 5
Rooming House $100.00 + $10.00/unit over 5
Mixed Commercial/Residential $100.00 + $10.00/unit over 5
Non-Residential 0 – 25,000 sq. ft. $100.00
Non-Residential 25,000  sq. ft. or more $150.00

Ensure adequate staffing and technology to support the program

Rochester had a full complement of housing inspectors when they added lead to the inspections.  Rochester’s housing inspectors were all trained to inspect for lead, and the inspectors are responsible for geographic areas.  Rochester implemented a hiring process that focused on hiring inspectors from within the neighborhoods and using a two-year training process to ensure the new inspectors were properly trained.  Using inspectors from the neighborhood helped build community trust and helped the inspectors gain access to homes. The inspectors also brought an attitude of ownership and pride in “their” neighborhoods where they inspected.


Escalating administrative fines/tickets for non-compliance that city collects and deposits in fund to support the lead program.



Tenant protections Section §90-63 provides tenant protection against various retaliatory measures as a result of reporting conditions with potential lead hazards, provided the tenant did not cause the condition

Legal mechanisms: Create private right of action for tenants whose landlords violate the law and Limit eviction proceedings to units with no violations (clean hands law)  No

Public database of all rental units and inspection results Yes

Periodic reporting of number of units inspected and results + metrics to determine effectiveness The law required the city to publicly report annual data on the number of inspections conducted, passing rates for visual, dust, and exterior inspections, and clearance rates. Resolution 23 required the city to (1) create list of all properties to be inspected in the high risk area (2) reports by end of 1st quarter of years 2, 3, and 4 stating how many high risk properties have not yet been inspected (3) by year 4, must list any high risk properties not inspected and include reason why not. 

Public oversight mechanisms Resolution 24: requested Mayor to appoint Citizen Advisory Group, with majority of members must be residents of the targeted area

Auditing processes The lead law gave the city authority to audit and sanction third-party clearance testing firms found to have poor quality control. The lead law required property owners to obtain a clearance from a private firm after lead hazards were identified and repaired. Over time, a number of the private clearance firms were found to be falsifying dust wipe tests. In response, the City of Rochester suspended several clearance providers from doing dust wipe tests for a year.

Revolving Fund to help landlords with repairs No


Ecosystem considerations

Meaningful stakeholder input in design and oversight Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, Citizen Advisory Groups. Community Lead Summit in June 2004. The two-day

event included an hour-long live show on the local public television station, featuring local and national experts on lead followed by a public call-in session with phone

lines staffed by Coalition members. The Community Lead Summit attracted

nearly 500 people. At the end of the Lead Summit, participants were invited to take the

podium in a “commitment session” to state how they personally would

help end childhood lead poisoning by 2010.  Several key commitments had been carefully mapped out by the Coalition in advance of the Lead Summit. Most significantly, Rochester Mayor William Johnson, a Democrat, stated that he would pass a comprehensive lead law before leaving office in December 2005. Republican County Executive Maggie Brooks then pledged to mirror the city’s approach in the county’s

Quality Housing Inspections program so that if the county was paying direct rent for residents receiving public housing assistance, those units would be inspected.


Do the math: budgeting and reducing harm 

The 2002 Center for Governmental Research needs assessment report estimated the total cost to make Rochester lead-safe was between $605 million and $5.6 billion.

These figures were based on per-unit costs of $7,556 to make a unit lead-safe and up to $70,000 for complete rehabilitation, respectively. This high cost estimates lead to fear that addressing lead would bankrupt the city.  The Coalition argued that studies showed that lower-cost interim controls could effectively control lead hazards if combined with proper maintenance and monitoring. Health department staff reported that the average cost to make a unit lead-safe under a 2002 HUD Lead Hazard Control grant program was $3,253 per unit for interim controls ($5,598 for interim controls with window replacement).

Coalition wanted risk assessors ($400 per inspection); Dust wipe clearance in high risk areas was chosen due to cost concerns ($150 per inspection).