What Landlords Need to Know About Asbestos

I have written this article to explain what your responsibilities are as a landlord if asbestos is present in one of your properties.

Asbestos materials are everywhere, and if disturbed, it can lead to serious health issues. There are several different types of asbestos. The types of asbestos that are most common in the UK are crocidolite, chrysotile and amosite. Asbestos is mined in various countries throughout the world. Its use was widespread. Building materials and household products such as ironing board covers, electric blankets and fireproof gloves were all made of asbestos.

The good news is, asbestos was banned in 1999 because of the damaging health effects of asbestos exposure. However, properties that were built before asbestos was banned are still likely to contain asbestos.

If you are a landlord and you have a property that was built before the asbestos ban you need to be cautious. Learn as much as you can about asbestos materials and its associated health risks.

Where to find Asbestos in Rental Properties

Up until its ban in 1999, asbestos was used extensively in the construction industry. Properties that were built before asbestos was banned are still likely to have it somewhere within its construction. The 1950s to the 1980s where the decades that asbestos was used the most in the building industry. If the property you rent out was built anywhere between these decades be very cautious.

The widespread use of asbestos was because of its idyllic properties. Asbestos is cheap, heat resistant, strong, and can even keep condensation under control. It’s easy to see why the use of asbestos was so widespread.

As a result of its popularity, you will find asbestos in a lot of rental properties that were built before it was banned. The most common materials that may contain asbestos are as follows:

Artex ceilings and walls and other textured coatings

  • Fire doors and fire blankets
  • Pipework and gutters
  • roof felt
  • Floor tiles
  • Cardboard and baking paper
  • Asbestos insulation bold in ceilings, walls and doors
  • Garage roofs
  • Bath panels

What Are the Health Hazards?

The use of asbestos was so popular before it was banned because nobody was aware of how it was impacting people’s health. It can take anywhere between 15 and 60 years before the effects of asbestos exposure come to light. There are no immediate symptoms after asbestos exposure. People were unaware of what asbestos was doing to them until it was too late.

People who had consistent exposure to asbestos fibers during the 60s 70s and 80s might only be starting to notice the symptoms in older age. If you look at the graph below, you can see a rapid increase in deaths caused by mesothelioma since the 1980s.

Cancer caused by asbestos fibre inhalation kills approximately 4000 people a year. The Internet has exploded with forums and support groups to help people suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. There are plenty of survivor stories and the struggles people face for you to read.

How Does Asbestos Cause Ill-Health?

The way people contract asbestos related diseases is when the airborne fibres are inhaled into the lungs. It is unlikely to cause harm if someone only had a short, single exposure to asbestos. However, if someone was exposed to asbestos regularly, there’s a much higher chance that they will have serious health implications in the future.

If material that contains asbestos gets disturbed, its fibres become airborne. There are many ways asbestos fibres can be released into the air. Good examples would be knocking down a wall, drilling a hole into a wall or removing plasterboard. If you think your property may contain asbestos, you must evaluate the risks before carrying out any work.

If the work you plan on doing to a property does not disturb any asbestos materials, then there is no risk to health. There are only health risks when the fibres becoming airborne.

Who is at Risk from Asbestos?

Anyone who accidentally damages or disturbs any material that contains asbestos and inhales its airborne fibres may be at risk of developing an asbestos related illness.

The people who are at the highest risk of asbestos related diseases are the ones who work in any of the following trades – roofers, plasterers, heating engineers, building and decorators.

Statistics from the HSE show the average amount of people who die every 7 days in the UK:

8 joiners die.

6 electricians die.

20 tradesmen die.

4 plumbers die.

Employers and people who are self employed must do everything in their power to eliminate the risk of anyone being exposed to asbestos according to the control of asbestos regulations 2012.

The confusing part of the above statement is that these regulations are applicable to landlords, but the law is only referring to non-domestic properties. It means as a landlord; you are legally responsible for assessing any risks of asbestos in every part of the building where people do not live. As a landlord of a rental property, you would have to check for asbestos in the stairways, entrance halls, boiler rooms, roof spaces, garages and even a communal garden.

It is a legal requirement for you to assess all of the communal parts of a rental property and keep people away from any hazardous materials. If you do happen to find any materials containing asbestos, then it is your responsibility to make a note of its location and the type of asbestos. You will need to put an asbestos management plan in place to make sure people are safe from asbestos exposure.

If you plan to have work carried out on your property, you must inform any tradesmen about any asbestos materials before they start work.

To make things even more confusing for you, the control of asbestos regulations 2012 stipulates that you do not have a duty to manage the risk of asbestos in private residences such as private houses, individual flats, or private rooms etc. However, it’s your moral duty to make sure your tenants are safe from any potential harm to their health.

According to the defective premises act 1972, it is of the utmost importance to make sure that you protect tenants from disease or injury caused by a defect or hazard within the property. Although this law doesn’t specifically mention asbestos, it’s safe to assume that it does. It’s within your interest to make sure that you do everything you can to identify any hazards and keep them under control. You can visit the asbestos information centre to learn more about keeping compliant with the asbestos regulations.

What Steps Should You Take If Asbestos is Present?

If you suspect that the property has asbestos materials in it, then you must not disturb it in any way and leave it well alone. Make sure that none of your tenants or workers can accidentally knock it or damage it because doing so could release its harmful fibres into the air. Do not attempt to remove the asbestos yourself.

It would be wise to notify your local authority about your suspicions. Please arrange to have an asbestos survey. A surveyor will come to the property to test the material or have it removed.

There is no need to have asbestos removed if it has not been disturbed or damaged and it is in good condition. Make sure you document the location of the material and put a label on it that clearly states “contains asbestos”.

You will need to have the asbestos removed if it is in bad condition or has been disturbed or damaged in any way. Never attempt to remove asbestos materials yourself. Always get a professional to do the job safely.

If you or anyone within one of your properties has come into contact with asbestos fibres, and they are suffering from respiratory problems as a result, you must see a doctor immediately. A doctor will be able to diagnose what is wrong and give you information about what you need to do next.