Despite being phased out of use as a building material, it’s still fairly common to find asbestos in New Zealand homes. As it’s now understood to be carcinogenic in its airborne forms, asbestos is certainly something you’ll want to have either managed, or removed from your home.
This can be easy enough to do when it’s your own home – you can call up some qualified asbestos removalists who can put together a plan for how to deal with the issue.
But what, on the other hand, should you do when you’re living in a rental property? What are your responsibilities, and what are your landlord’s? Here’s what you need to know.
What are my responsibilities living with asbestos?
As the tenant of a property, the legal responsibilities for doing something about suspected asbestos do not lie with you – they are the duty of the landlord.
That said, if you suspect there might be some asbestos-containing materials in the property, it’s always a good idea to contact your landlord and have them check. You have a responsibility to your own and any co-tenants’ health to flag anything you think may have been missed when the landlord was checking the property’s safety.
What are my landlord’s responsibilities around asbestos?
New regulations about asbestos management in the workplace were introduced in 2016. The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 outline the responsibilities a person in charge of a business or undertaking (PCBU) has with regard to asbestos when construction or renovations are being done in a place of work.
It might appear on first glance that this has no bearing on a residential property. However, the legislation applies because residential rentals are considered part of business activities. When a tradesperson comes to the site to perform repairs or maintenance, the property becomes a place of work in the eyes of the law. The landlord is therefore considered a PCBU, and is required to comply with the relevant laws.
This involves the landlord having an asbestos management plan in place if they know, or ought reasonably to know – if the house was built between 1940 and 2000, for example – that asbestos might be a risk for workers in the house, as well as the tenants themselves.
For example, if a plumber was hired to change some piping layout in an house built during the 1960s and this required drilling holes through walls, the landlord should have an asbestos management plan in place, because the chances of asbestos contamination occurring are reasonably high.
Crucially, your landlord can’t just leave it to the property manager (if there is one) to be aware of these potential risks. They need to be proactive in order to stay on the right side of the law and ensure their property is safe to be worked on.
Does my landlord have to remove asbestos even if they’re not undertaking renovations?
Most of the time, a rental isn’t considered a place of work – it’s a home, and as such doesn’t come under the purview of health and safety at work regulations.
That said, landlords are still required to have taken ‘reasonable care’ to ensure there are no asbestos-containing materials that pose a health risk on the property. If you think you have discovered some asbestos in your rental home, you should always approach your landlord to see if they’re aware of it.
How should I approach my landlord about suspected asbestos?
There is no set way you have to inform your landlord about suspected asbestos on your property. If you have a property manager, let them as soon as possible or simply contact your landlord directly.
Generally speaking, asbestos-containing materials that are in good condition don’t pose a risk to human health. The danger comes when the asbestos fibres come loose, and are able to spread into the air.
It’s quite possible there may be asbestos containing materials in your rental home, but your landlord has fulfilled their duty of care, and already tested the suspected material.
If this is the case, contacting them and asking for more information is still good for your own peace of mind, as they can let you know that it’s not asbestos or, if it is, what steps they’ve taken to ensure your safety in its presence.