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Asbestos and domestic rental properties

As two similar news stories emerged this week (Kent Online and Grantham Journal) and , it’s clear that the true impact of using asbestos in construction is still being felt decades after its heyday. Widely used in the outer fabric of a building, asbestos also found its way into many internal fixtures and fittings, as well as common household products.

So the recent discovery of asbestos in an artexed ceiling, and underneath the floor covering in a rented property, should come as no surprise. Tenants at the two properties in Grantham and Northfleet both complained to their landlord, one of which was a housing association and the other a local council.

Although private landlords have certain duties of care to their tenants, ‘public’ landlords such as housing associations take on extended responsibilities when it comes to managing asbestos, including duties those towards workers maintaining their properties.

Housing associations and local councils

The whereabouts and condition of asbestos should be recorded on an official asbestos register, controlled and regularly updated by the landlord. A representative from Gravesend Churches Housing Association (GCHA), commented on how they comply with the regulations:

“GCHA holds an up-to-date Asbestos Register as required by The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The register is updated by a rolling programme of specialist surveys which categorises the presence of materials which may contain asbestos fibres in our properties.”

The housing association also said that the particular floor tiles in question represented the lowest risk to health, known as category D – the thermoplastic tiles are covered with another layer of flooring which minimises the risk of exposure.

The other property in Grantham contained asbestos in its bathroom ceiling, and this was discovered by workmen dealing with a mould problem. Although asbestos is said to be safe if not damaged or disturbed, in this case the artex had reportedly started to disintegrate, creating concern for the tenant.

Does every landlord have a duty to manage asbestos?

A landlord’s duty of care to tenants under general health and safety legislation is a serious issue, but the extent of their responsibilities and liabilities depend on the terms and conditions of individual tenancy agreements.

Various pieces of legislation may or may not be applicable, including the following:

  • Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012 – concerns the ‘common areas’ of rented domestic properties, such as stairwells, corridors, lifts, sheds and garages.
  • Defective Premises Act, 1972 – landlords have a general duty to protect tenants and visitors from any defects in the property, including asbestos.
  • Landlord and Tenant Act, 1985 – states that rented property must be fit for human habitation, and if asbestos has been disturbed, this might not be the case.
  • Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974 – ‘public’ landlords such as housing associations and local authorities must ensure their employees receive the necessary asbestos training, and that workers are aware of the potential presence of asbestos.

It should also be said that tenants have a duty to cooperate, and to help the landlords fulfil their health and safety obligations.