Seriously Talking About Drinking Water

It took the Flint, Michigan lead contaminated water crisis to dramatically change the conversation from passive to serious in a hurry. The scientific, educational, and public safety communities will provide the research evidence to keep pressure on state and local governments, and utilities to effectively mitigate lead levels in water. The EPA has established action levels for remediation.

Attention is focused on old and deteriorating lead water lines serving communities . Wisconsin identified 5 counties with high risk lead levels and allocated limited funds to those counties replace public and private lead service lines. The other 67 counties are not lead free. They just aren’t in the top 5 as identified so far. In Dane County, the city of Madison has been sharing the cost of replacing lead service to homes since 2001. (By sharing, the City rebates the homeowner $1000.00 of a typical $3,000 bill.) Mount Horeb was in the news this year. A sample of homes in target areas of the Village showed 16% of the homes with higher than safety standard levels of lead in their drinking water.

Estimates for replacing lead lines put the cost at $3,000 to $5,000 per house. Obviously State and Local governments have a significant price to consider as they  write public policy to comply with EPA 15 Parts Per Billion action level directive.

As real estate licensees in the lead-in-the-water discussion, our place is not to be a referee or judge. We will see differing opinions on risk. We will hear debates of the merits of pipe replacement. Expect to hear no-fear opinions from the municipalities and water utilities. Our role is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement THEY are satisfied with, and their satisfaction of the risk of lead poisoning can not include our opinions of the evidence or the science.

Homes built prior to the 1940’s are the ones most likely to have lead pipes coming into the house from the street. It’s not always easy to see the lead pipe, but inspectors may have clues to look for. A water test for lead won’t show the a lead pipe exists, but it might provide some evidence that the water is relatively safe.

As a plan of action, consider a test by a licensed plumber done in compliance with EPA rules. Homeowners may avoid delays, surprises, and difficult negotiating positions by testing for lead in the water before offering the house for sale. Maybe we will see more home buyers requesting water tests for these older homes. Assisting the parties in knowing the rules of proper testing will always be safe and prudent practice.

 

 

 

 

 

Broker Liability for Misrepresentation

Cases and Lessons from Wisconsin Courts provided by the WRA in the October 2016 issue of The Wisconsin Real Estate Magazine could keep you out of harms way.  Intentional fraud is one way to be found liable but deception is not required to be liable.  Being negligent  or failing the expectation of strict responsibility (A licensee is expected to know better or the law was specific in my obligation and I failed to be responsible) will put us on the wrong side of liability just as well.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will happen where an owner balks at disclosing and asks you for your advice on disclosure.  Case Study #1 in the feature article makes it clear and simple—Disclosure is the way to go.  Case Study #2 we see too much of. As-is is no protection for seller or brokers. There  is no way to wash hands of liability for saying take it as is when an adverse fact is known.

The WRA legal division has a finger on the pulse of Wisconsin real estate law issues. Take time to read their Cases and adopt their advice. Maybe share the Case Studies with your clients.  You will never regret disclosure.