Being a landlord means a whole lot of responsibilities for your property and often the tenants that reside there. For the most part, this is a simple part of the job – you make repairs, you monitor issues and carry out your regular health and safety checks. But sometimes a problem arises that might have you stumped and for many, that problem is asbestos. Just what should you do if it’s in your property? How much does the tenant have to do? Is your property even habitable anymore?
Don’t worry; we’re going to address your concerns here so if you ever have the face the dreaded A-word, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Why is asbestos a problem?
Asbestos is a material that was used in the construction of building mainly between the 1940s and the 1980s. When it is damaged it releases microscopic fibres into the air that can be breathed in and embed in lung tissue. Over many years this can lead to severe illnesses such as pleural plaques, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Over the year, those who have worked with the material have made asbestos claims against the companies they worked for. It is unlikely, but there is a chance that if you, as a landlord, do not handle asbestos correctly and can be directly linked to later health issues, you might face legal action. But before we start worrying about impending legal action, let’s look at whether or not you have responsibility for the problems.
Are you responsible?
Firstly, your duty to deal with the issue depends upon the agreement made with your tenant; you need to check where you stand legally before writing of thousands in repair work. For most properties, you’ll have a duty to manage the shared areas but may have specified that tenants deal with domestic spaces themselves. Agreements where tenants handle issues is more common for long-term tenants in houses, rather than those in flats, but you must be sure as to what duties you have or you open yourself up to legal action.
If you are responsible for common areas, or non-domestic premises as they are legally known, that means you are responsible for halls, foyers, stairways, lifts, store rooms, roof spaces, gardens and outbuildings – basically anything that is not the interior living space of a flat. It should be noted, that if the property is empty, as the owner, you are responsible for it.
Once your duty is established, you need to deal with the asbestos itself.
What condition is the asbestos in and how should it be handled?
The condition and location of the asbestos in your building has a big impact on how it will be handled. If you’re unsure of what should be done with any asbestos you’ve discovered, bring in an asbestos surveyor who can advise you.
Good condition – For completely intact and undamaged asbestos, the best option may be to give it a coat of paint and leave it in place. This option is usually best for low traffic areas but it should still be monitored regularly, labelled and any tradespeople should be warned before they carry out work.
Minor damage – A little damage, such as scratches or small chips means the asbestos may be repaired or encapsulated or make it safe, and then left where it is. This can be as simple as painting it with a suitable emulsion. The same precautions as above are then applied: monitor it, label it and inform tradespeople.
Moderate damage or worse – any damage to an asbestos product, beyond minor scratches and chips, requires that it be removed by specialists. However, different types of asbestos require different methods of removal as the risk levels are different.
Do I have to remove all the asbestos I find?
Disturbing asbestos is actually the last step you want to take. Removal can be a very risky job, even for licenced contractors, so depending on the type of asbestos found (pipe insulation is usually the one to worry about most) you are very likely to be advised to seal it, monitor it and inform tradespeople of its presence. If in doubt, get an asbestos survey to identify where it is and get advice on what to do next.