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Is it safe to live in an apartment with lead paint?

"The apartment has lead paint," is a phrase you are unlikely to enjoy hearing. However, if you have a limited budget, meaning you are also limited in your choice of apartments, then most of the places you are looking at might have lead paint.

The good news is that living in a place with lead paint is not, by itself, necessarily dangerous. Here is a look at why.

The state of the paint

Lead paint mainly becomes an issue only when the paint chips, cracks or peels become part of the dust in your apartment. In other words, it can be a problem if you and others in the apartment could potentially ingest it. In fact, medical professionals advise that pregnant women avoid burning, scraping or sanding old paint because of the danger of lead inhalation.

So, does that mean you are in the clear if the paint looks intact? Maybe. Maybe not.

Who might disturb the paint

If you are living alone, you would know to leave the paint alone. However, if children live with you, they could potentially disturb the paint even if you warn them not to. One thing is for sure: The second you notice that lead paint has become an active risk, it is time to take action. Steps to follow include documenting the issue and explaining it in writing to your landlord. If medical attention is necessary, be sure to save all bills and documentation in case you seek compensation later (a blood test can show the presence of lead poisoning). If your landlord does nothing, the California health department and a lawyer may be able to help.

The bottom line

It is a good idea to avoid living in a place that has lead paint if you can help it. However, many people do live in places where the lead paint is in good condition, and they suffer no health effects from it. Do take the necessary precautions if you notice that the paint's condition has changed.

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