The state is simultaneously slogging through a backlog of applications for lead removal licenses and reassuring contractors they will not be penalized for violating the new rules.
Wisconsin on April 22 enacted new rules requiring home-renovation contractors train workers in lead abatement to get a state license before working on houses built before 1978. The industry reacted quickly, resulting in a backlog of 4,000 applications for the lead licenses, said Shelley Bruce, asbestos and lead certification supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“We’re very cognizant of the need for renovators to be out there working,” she said, “and our goal is not to stop work.”
State rules require contractors and workers have a registration card from DHS before working on houses that may contain lead. Companies must also gain a state certification.
Bruce said her agency will not penalize companies that applied for a license but have not received one.
Contractors should keep a copy of their application and a certificate showing workers have completed state-mandated training courses for lead removal, she said.
The West Central Wisconsin Community Action Agency Inc., a company with a state contract to weatherize houses, is working without the license but following everything else in the rules, said Ken Peterson, manager of the Glenwood City-based company’s housing preservation program. He said the Wisconsin Department of Energy, which contracts with the company, ordered West Central to proceed with projects despite the delay in approval for its license application.
“The people that we have working are compliant,” he said, “or at least as compliant as you can be without a card in your hand.”
But the idea of working without a license has spooked some renovation contractors who applied for certification but have not received a response, said Diane Ausavich, cleaning division administrator for Carl Krueger Construction Inc., Milwaukee. Ausavich, president of the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, said the association is trying to broadcast that contractors will not face penalties if they applied for a license.
“They’re starting to get a handle on things,” she said. “We knew there would be a backlog from the beginning.”
As of Tuesday morning, Bruce said her department had processed applications for 2,333 workers and 1,414 companies. More than 8,000 people have completed the training courses in Wisconsin, she said. Bruce said her office is about two months behind and, on Tuesday, was processing applications sent April 14.
Despite bringing in summer interns to help process the applications, Bruce said her staff members cannot keep up with the influx while also inspecting projects.
The licensing backlog is raising questions for municipal building inspectors who are requiring workers and contractors have a state license to get a building permit to work on houses built before 1978. Middleton already enacted the new requirement, and, after contacting the state, the city is approving applications if workers have passed training courses and contractors have applied for state approval, said Scott Ellarson, Middleton building inspector.
Jim Micech, director of building inspection for the village of Jackson, said he is studying how the village can make the lead license a prerequisite to receive a building permit to work on older houses. He said he plans to modify the village’s permits this month to make the licenses a requirement and is looking for an easy way to verify with the state that contractors have at least applied for one.
“If they are backlogged, are you going to hold up the projects?” he said.
The city of Superior modified its building permits to incorporate the lead licenses, and the city of Beloit is investigating how to modify its permits.
Bruce said her department is encouraging municipal inspectors to adopt the practice. If any local inspectors raise questions, she said, builders should refer them to her office.
“They don’t have a need to be concerned,” Bruce said, “and if they have somebody from a local agency who questions them or maybe won’t give them a permit, I urge them to tell inspectors what we have told them.”