Does a Landlord Need to Provide an Asbestos Report?
While asbestos was banned in the United Kingdom in 1999, any buildings, including rental properties, constructed up to that point are likely to include asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
While ACMs are safe in their normal state, when damaged, they can release harmful fibres into the air. If swallowed or inhaled, those fibres can stick to the lungs and cause life-threatening diseases in the future.
When talking about a commercial property, the duty holder — in other words, the person responsible for asbestos management on the premises — is likely the landlord.
There are rare instances when a lease may say that the tenant is responsible for asbestos maintenance in their home. However, the individual responsible for property maintenance is the duty holder by law, which would still put the responsibility on the landlord.
That means the landlord is legally required to have an asbestos survey done and draw up an asbestos management plan.
However, are landlords also required to give asbestos reports to tenants and discuss asbestos regulations and management with them? We’ll explore that topic in this article.
- 1 Understanding asbestos and its risks
- 2 The Landlord and Tenant Act for asbestos
- 3 Do housing associations have to check for asbestos?
- 4 Landlord’s duties regarding asbestos
What should you do if you find asbestos?
- 5.1 Isolate the area
- 5.2 Do not disturb ACMs
- 5.3 Inform the tenant
- 5.4 Contact a licensed asbestos professional
- 5.5 Arrange for an asbestos survey
- 5.6 Asbestos management plan
- 5.7 Notify relevant authorities
- 5.8 Consult with health professionals
- 5.9 Temporary remediation
- 5.10 Tenant relocation
- 5.11 Document everything
- 5.12 Seek legal advice
- 6 Legal consequences of non-compliance
- 7 Final thoughts
Understanding asbestos and its risks
Asbestos fibres are carcinogenic, and they’re easy to inhale or swallow once they’re airborne because they can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted. The longer the duration of exposure, the more likely it is that the individual will develop a serious health issue as far as 10 or more years in the future.
Thickening of the lungs is a common result of asbestos exposure, and it can lead to various types of asbestos-related cancers that require aggressive treatments.
Asbestos awareness and management are important in a rental property because tenants could be exposed to asbestos whenever they’re home without even knowing it. Plus, any staff, contractors, or visitors who come into the building are at risk of exposure, too.
According to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, landlords in the UK are required to maintain the building’s structure. In terms of asbestos, if ACMs are present in a structural element, like the roof, and the landlord doesn’t take action, the tenant could sue the landlord for breaching the contract.
The Landlord and Tenant Act for asbestos
While asbestos isn’t specifically mentioned in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, it does fall under its property maintenance guidelines.
For example, section 11 states that repair obligations include “the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes).”
If these areas include damaged ACMs, the landlord would be required to repair them to avoid a dangerous asbestos exposure event.
In section 17, the Act says that if a tenant claims the landlord has breached the contract by not making necessary repairs, the court can order the landlord to carry out the maintenance needed.
Do housing associations have to check for asbestos?
Like landlords, housing associations in the UK also have a duty to tenants, staff, and anyone on the property to keep them safe from asbestos exposure.
According to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, the duty to manage asbestos in tenant housing applies to common areas, such as lobbies, foyers, and lifts.
In the UK, other legal guidelines, such as the Defective Premises Act 1972 and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, require housing associations and landlords to exercise a reasonable level of care to tenants, staff, and visitors. That includes keeping them safe from asbestos exposure.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which oversees asbestos management in the UK, people on the premises have to cooperate with the duty holder so that asbestos exposure can be effectively managed. Improper asbestos management can lead to legal consequences, including fines and time in prison.
Landlord’s duties regarding asbestos
The landlord’s role as a duty holder obligates him or her to take the following steps:
- Identify ACMs in rental properties.
- Conduct an asbestos survey and assessment.
- Develop and maintain an asbestos management plan.
- Communicate asbestos awareness information to tenants.
What should you do if you find asbestos?
If a landlord discovers an ACM or multiple ACMs on the property, these are the immediate steps that should be taken:
Isolate the area
When an ACM is discovered or suspected, isolate the affected area. The goal is to ensure that nobody in the building, including tenants, staff, maintenance personnel, etc., accesses the area.
If someone was to access the area, they could inadvertently disturb or damage the asbestos, which could release dangerous fibres.
Do not disturb ACMs
If a material contains or could contain asbestos, don’t disturb it in any way. That includes touching it or attempting to remove the materials. Even a slight disturbance, like putting a nail in a wall that contains asbestos, is enough to release fibres and send them airborne.
Inform the tenant
Tenants should be notified right away. Advise them to stay away from the ACMs anregisterd the areas where they were found, and clarify that they should not, under any circumstances, disturb or touch the materials.
Also, let them know the steps you’re taking to deal with the issue, along with when they can expect follow-up information from you.
Contact a licensed asbestos professional
Unless you have experience with asbestos and have received training, you should never try to identify or remove asbestos. The best option is to contact an asbestos professional.
You’ll need people who can properly assess the situation, identify ACMs, test materials, and offer guidance on the next steps.
Arrange for an asbestos survey
Before you can develop a plan of action, you’ll need to arrange an asbestos survey. A qualified surveyor will thoroughly survey the premises to find ACMs and determine their condition.
Asbestos management plan
Based on what the surveyor finds, you’ll develop an asbestos management plan. You won’t have to do this alone — asbestos professionals can work with you to decide on the best course of action. The plan will list the steps for managing and/or removing the ACMs to prevent exposure.
Note that the asbestos management plan must be reviewed and updated annually, if not more often. If there are situations that disturb or have the potential to disturb ACMs, the asbestos management plan must be updated to reflect new details.
When ACMs are found, the duty holder is legally obligated to report it to the HSE. Do this as soon as the surveyor confirms the type and amount of asbestos found.
Consult with health professionals
If you feel that anyone has been exposed to asbestos fibres on the premises, encourage them to visit a healthcare professional who can provide medical advice. It’s best if they consult with a doctor who has experience with asbestos-related illnesses.
Depending on the state and location of the ACMs, the asbestos may need to be encapsulated or sealed until it can be removed. The risk assessment and your asbestos contractor will be able to offer guidance about temporary measures to minimize exposure.
Depending on the severity of the situation, it may be necessary to temporarily relocate tenants. Sometimes, this is the only way to ensure their safety during the asbestos removal and remediation stages.
The best way to ensure you stay legally compliant is to keep good records. Make sure to keep detailed records of every action taken related to the building’s asbestos.
That includes conversations you have with asbestos professionals and tenants; surveys and reports; and an overview of the work that takes place.
Seek legal advice
In complex cases, it’s best to speak with a legal professional who has experience with asbestos-related matters. This will ensure that you meet your legal obligations and comply with the law.
Legal consequences of non-compliance
Commercial landlords are obligated to keep their tenants, staff, visitors, and anyone else in the building safe from asbestos exposure.
Landlords who don’t properly manage asbestos in their rental property could face consequences including fines and prison. Tenants may also be able to sue landlords for a breach of contract if they fail to manage asbestos on the property.
In most cases, the landlord of a commercial property will also be the duty holder responsible for managing asbestos on the premises.
That means they’re required to assess the building for asbestos, hire asbestos professionals, report asbestos to the HSE, keep detailed records, communicate with tenants, and, ultimately, maintain a safe environment for everyone.
Landlords who don’t fulfill their legal obligations can face a host of problems. That includes being sued by tenants for breach of contract and being fined by the HSE. In extreme cases, time in prison can result from improper management of asbestos.
As a landlord, you’re responsible for tenant health and safety. With asbestos posing such an extreme and life-threatening health risk, this obligation shouldn’t be taken lightly. Managing the ACMs on the property and clearly communicating with tenants and staff are necessary steps to keep everyone safe.
Written by Jess Scott
Jess Scott has been an all-round asbestos consultant since 1996. That’s nearly 3 decades of asbestos knowledge. He spends his time sharing that knowledge with the team at Oracle and with their clients. Jess's goal is, and always has been, to use my expertise in helping people to comply with the law. This legal compliance ultimately helps to protect everyone from the harmful effects of asbestos. Jess has acted as an asbestos expert witness in legal cases and is involved in many asbestos educational activities throughout the UK.