The last five years have been rough on home values across the country — but things could get even worse for some California homeowners, thanks to spate of lead paint lawsuits.
A recent lead paint ruling by a California Superior Court Judge, has homeowners and the real estate industry up in arms.
The concern? Homes could be designated public nuisances because decades ago, they were covered with paint containing lead.
“I don’t see any advantages to having my house declared a nuisance,” said Bob White, a homeowner in southern California.
White is just like the nearly 5 million other owners of these classic California homes now in question.
Warren Rohn, executive director of the Los Angeles County Boards of Real Estate, shares White’s concern.
“Well, from my point of view it’s very serious,” said Rohn. “Because, for example, as a homeowner, if I wanted to sell my home and a buyer came along and found out from the realtor that it’s labeled as a public nuisance, the buyer would walk away.”
While news to many, the lead paint public nuisance battle is not new.
In the last ten years, plaintiffs lawyers have brought eight suits against manufacturers, seeking a multi-billion dollar payday.
Richard Faulk, a law professor at George Mason University, is an expert on public nuisance suits, and says lead paint is not an issue.
“The lead paint situation is encapsulated, it’s sealed up, and there are no significant problems with lead paint exposures in California because of existing regulations,” said Faulk.
In December 2013, Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled against three paint manufacturers and ordered them to establish a $1.1 billion fund to compensate individuals who were injured by lead paint exposure.
The companies are appealing, but the ruling only adds more fuel to a controversy that has spilled well beyond the suits’ original targets.
This ruling is of little comfort to Bob White and other homeowners worried their life’s investment — their homes — could be the next unintended casualty of unintended litigation.