Once considered the “magic mineral,” asbestos is resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion. It was a popular choice for many years as a component in construction materials for buildings, including offices, homes, and schools. Consequently, many individuals reported asbestos-related illnesses and the government intervened.
Today, landlords of pre-1981 rental properties must take some reasonable steps to protect themselves, their employees, and their tenants. In this article, we will cover the following:
- Federal and State Asbestos Laws
- A Landlord’s Responsibility to Tenants
- Protective Measures for Workers
Federal and State Asbestos Laws
Surprisingly, asbestos is not banned in the U.S. nor are there state-specific laws requiring landlords to disclose asbestos in their rental properties. Of course, states can hold a landlord liable for asbestos-related injuries. For example, in California, although the law on asbestos contamination is not as well developed, friable asbestos is a breach of the warranty of habitability.
There are federal regulations, however. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency under the United States Department of Labor, was created to ensure safe and healthy conditions for workers. Its rules apply to all buildings constructed before 1981 and to any construction known to contain asbestos.
As a landlord, whether you plan to renovate or in any way disturb the structure of asbestos-containing materials, you must follow OSHA’s regulations. This especially holds true if you decide to do the following:
- Plan to hire any number of contractors for repairs or maintenance
- Manage a staff of more than ten people
Related: Is a Landlord Responsible for Mold?
A Landlord’s Responsibility to Tenants
Do landlords have to disclose asbestos?
No specific-state laws on disclosing asbestos exist, and some states, like California, do not require a landlord provide asbestos disclosures. However, legal professionals urge landlords to make disclosures even if asbestos is suspected to be on property. Of course, your local laws may have different requirements, so be sure to check if asbestos disclosure is mandatory in your area.
Do landlords have to test for asbestos?
Any pre-1981 structure is treated as if it does contain asbestos until testing rules out its presence. If the building materials in your rental are not damaged, you do not need to test for asbestos. If you plan to renovate or perform any actions that will disturb asbestos-containing materials (ACM) or presumed asbestos-containing materials (PACM), then you must comply with OSHA’s regulations and test samples.
You may wonder what happens if testing confirms asbestos is present in the rental.
Do landlords have to remove asbestos?
Landlords are not required to remove asbestos if it is intact, because in this condition, it has a negligible risk of exposure. Unless the asbestos has begun to deteriorate and release dust, it is best to leave it alone. Asbestos is hazardous when it is friable, or easily crumbled; continuous handling or impact will increase friability.
When is a landlord held liable for asbestos?
If a landlord did not disclose the presence of asbestos and tenants are harmed by airborne fibers, the landlord can be held legally responsible. Although OSHA’s asbestos regulations is designed to protect workers, the law still imposes a duty on landlords to ensure tenants are not harmed. This duty to keep rental premises safe and livable is a requirement known as the implied warranty of habitability—because it does not need to be explicitly stated in the lease.
How are people exposed?
When asbestos-containing material is disturbed—from breaking, drilling, or tearing—soft, cotton-like fibers are released into the air. When inhaled, these fibers are trapped in a person’s lungs and can cause serious health issues, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease characterized by scarring of lung tissues.
Steps to reduce your liability
If your property was built before 1981 or you suspect there is asbestos in the building, consider the following steps:
- Test for the presence of asbestos if you plan to make renovations or repairs.
- Make asbestos disclosures for your tenants.
- Do not disturb asbestos-containing materials and monitor their conditions.
- Educate your tenants they are safe when asbestos is intact.
If for any reason asbestos must be removed, seek the advice of licensed experts. Work areas should be contained properly to prevent the need for tenant relocation.
How much does asbestos abatement cost?
Protective Measures for Workers
The scope of OSHA’s standards depends on the type of activity performed on structures presumed to contain asbestos.
If you are planning to renovate or repair your property, then you are responsible for establishing engineering controls and work practices to reduce workers’ exposure, such as testing for asbestos, training staff, and providing safety equipment. If you contract with an outside company, that company should meet OSHA’s requirements and provide an invoice.
The following are some of the protective measures taken for a renovation or repair project:
- Testing for the presence of asbestos
- Assessing exposure by monitoring the concentration of asbestos in the air
- Providing workers 16 hours of training on asbestos safety
- Adding exhaust ventilation and dust collection systems
In custodial work, the level of exposure to asbestos is limited or non-existent. For example, when cleaning asbestos-containing floor tiles or siding, instructing your employee on asbestos safety is sufficient.
For more information on OSHA's asbestos standards, check out the OSHA Fact Sheet.
For any building built prior to 1981, your property is presumed to contain asbestos. To limit your liability, hire a licensed professional to conduct a test. Identifying the location of asbestos in advance is for the benefit of your workers and tenants. Be open and honest with your tenants by disclosing the presence of asbestos. Lastly, educate yourself and your employees to make sure everyone understands OSHA regulations.
Related: Best Practices for Landlords