What is a landlord’s responsibility around asbestos?


The presence of asbestos in a rental property is never good news, for both the tenant and landlord. For the former, it’s a substance that can cause undue health problems. For the latter, asbestos can be costly to remove or maintain. While both parties don’t want asbestos to be a problem, questions often arise around whose responsibility it is to deal with it. The answer in short, is that asbestos is always the responsibility of the landlord.

Asbestos itself isn’t harmful until it’s broken up or exposed as this is when the fibres release into the air. When it becomes airborne, it is extremely dangerous to inhale. As the fibres can be extremely fine, it’s hard for the lungs to remove them. It can cause serious problems including: asbestosis, lung cancer and tumours in the lungs & intestine. In NZ today, asbestos is the number one killer in the workplace with over 170 people dying every year from asbestos related injury.

The April 2018, update of asbestos safety regulations, recognise two types of landlord:

A. Residential
B. Non-residential

Responsibilities of residential landlords and homeowners.

The property owner is responsible for the safe management of any asbestos materials on the property. Tenants are not responsible. But they do have a right to know whether and where, asbestos might exist in the building they are renting.

Any home that was built after the year 2000 is probably safe from asbestos contamination; asbestos-laced building materials had been phased out of most New Zealand construction by that time.

If asbestos is contained within materials such as plaster board, roofing tiles or other building products, the asbestos fibres are effectively prevented from doing harm. Once the microscopic fibres become airborne, they become dangerous to human health. This means that the removal of the asbestos materials can be planned over a longer period as long as the asbestos fibres remain in their compacted state.

The April 2018 regulations give homeowners and residential landlords, the latitude to rely on other professional services to draw attention to asbestos management.

If, for example:

  • A plumber is doing maintenance work, he will draw attention to asbestos pipe insulation if it exists and recommend how it can be safely removed and replaced with non-asbestos insulation.
  • A roofer doing repairs notices that the tiles or shingles contain asbestos. He will draw this to the owner’s attention and recommend steps for safe removal.

A landlord need not rely completely on this advice. There is a range of licensed asbestos sampling and removal companies who can confirm asbestos content by safely taking samples and having those samples tested in a licensed laboratory. This would be a credible record of inspection to support the responsible management history of the property.

And because residential owners are not required to have an asbestos management plan, it is possible that the real estate market will show preference for homes that have a plan on file. These are not complex to prepare and can be given additional status if a licensed sampling and removal company signs off the document.

Responsibilities of non-residential owners and landlords.

From April 2018, all non-residential properties are required to have an asbestos management plan.

The plan is intended to ensure all occupants of buildings can function safely in and around their places of work for the period, however long it may be, and that all asbestos products have been replaced by safe materials.

The property owner is responsible for this plan. It must also be signed off by an independent licensed sampling and removal company.

Similar to residential properties, if asbestos is contained within materials such as plaster board, roofing tiles or other building products, the asbestos fibres are effectively prevented from doing harm. This is at least until the material is broken up or made ‘friable’.

This means:

  • The removal of the asbestos materials can be planned over a longer period as long as the asbestos fibres remain in their compacted state.
  • Owners can plan the removal and replacement of asbestos materials over a time frame which can accommodate the important factors of safety, budget and occupant convenience.

The starting point is to identify with the support of a licensed sampling company and a licensed testing laboratory, the locations and types of asbestos throughout its structure. It is also the responsibility of the landlord to ensure that all occupants of buildings have knowledge of these locations and how to ensure the asbestos can remain safe from airborne exposure until it is removed by licensed experts.

There are additional steps an owner can take; such as:

  • Discreet notices at asbestos locations.
  • Making sure a plan is held at reception and that all other services are given access to a copy of the plan when they arrive on site, (as routine as signing in at reception).
  • Briefings to occupants to encourage safe behaviour and discourage unnecessary concern.

If you’re planning on renovating

If your property was built before 2000 and you’re planning on renovating: involving changing room layout, or moving walls – the risk of asbestos becomes greater. During renovation, you effectively become a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking).

In this situation it’s imperative that you get a licensed asbestos professional to identify and remove or manage asbestos before any renovations take place.

For this you will need a demolition/refurbishment survey. These are generally a bit more invasive than the survey needed for an asbestos management plan.

Demolition/refurbishment surveys require checking around windows, under linoleum flooring, behind jib and other areas of the home involved. By getting this done, you remove the chance of any contractor coming into contact with asbestos.

The entire asbestos management process is generally completed quickly and easily, giving you and your tenants peace of mind. If you avoid disturbing asbestos and only use professionals for asbestos testing and asbestos removal—you’ve got nothing to worry about. Just be sure to understand your obligations as a landlord – it will keep everyone safe.

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