What property investors need to know about asbestos

As a landlord or property manager, you will have heard that the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 (“Asbestos Regulations”) came fully into force on 4 April 2018. 

But what do these new regulations mean, and what action do investors (or their property managers) need to take in order to remain compliant?

What’s asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral and has been used for thousands of years. It’s an incredibly resilient and fire retardant material, with a tensile strength better than steel. Because of these properties, asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (known as ACMs) have been used widely in the building industry across the world.

Identifying asbestos and ACMs in a property

  • A property is highly likely to have some materials containing asbestos if it was built before the 1980s.
  • A property is likely that it will have some materials containing asbestos if it was built between the 1980s and 1990s.
  • A property is unlikely to have materials containing asbestos if it was built after 1990.

Homes built after 2000 are highly unlikely to contain asbestos or ACMs.  

Areas of a residential property where you may be likely to find asbestos and ACMs include:

  • Cladding, including baseboards
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Wet area linings and substrates
  • Electrical meter boards (used due to fire retardant properties)
  • Compressed sheeting such as cladding 
  • Soffits
  • Roofing panels, eg super six roofing
  • Exterior window flashings
  • Toilet seat and cistern
  • Bath panels
  • Hot water cupboard linings
  • Water tanks
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Textured ceilings (looks like rough paint)
  • Interior window panel
  • Gutters and downpipes
  • Areas surrounding a fireplace
  • Fencing panels
  • Stormwater traps
  • Stormwater and sewage piping
  • Loose fill insulation
  • Partitions e.g. firewalls.  

What does this mean for property managers and landlords?

Create an asbestos register and update it
Property managers and landlords have an obligation to create a register of any properties that may contain asbestos and ACMs. This is important in case any contractors need to work on the property so that the information can be shared to prevent any harm to tenants and contractors. 

Electricians are usually very good at notifying property managers if the meter board contains asbestos as they, like all contractors, have obligation to keep themselves safe. Regulation 13 of the Asbestos Regulations requires the property manager and landlord to ensure the following is captured in the register:

  • The identification of asbestos or ACMs
  • Decisions and reasons for those decisions to be documented about the management of the risk from asbestos
  • Procedures for detailing incidents or emergencies (e.g. list of suitably qualified contractors who the property manager is able to contact and seek assistance from)

Asbestos or ACMs are often identified in a property during the process of a renovation. The Asbestos Regulations state that if only a small amount of asbestos is found (less than 10m2), then a suitably qualified contractor may be able to remove it. If the area of removal work is greater than 10m2, then this must be done by a licensed removal company. It’s important that the suitably qualified contractors follow the Asbestos Regulations and ensure the safety of everyone in and around the property. 

Existing properties
In accordance with the Asbestos Regulations, existing properties with asbestos or ACMs must have a management plan in place, in case the materials start to degrade or are damaged. More and more property investors are choosing to engage a professional property manager to help navigate all the changes to legislation that have been introduced in recent years, including the Asbestos Regulations. As an investor, if you’re unsure about any aspect of the property, then your property manager can assist you, for example by engaging a suitably qualified professional to assist in identifying the presence of ACMs and recording these in the asbestos register. 

The investment property should be inspected by your property manager every three months. At this time, visible areas identified in your asbestos register will be inspected, such as fencing or cladding. Any areas that are not visible, like an asbestos roof, may need to be examined by a suitably qualified professional to ensure that there’s no breakdown of the asbestos or any fibres being released into the atmosphere. Once a professional has reviewed your roof, ask their recommendation on of how often you should inspect the area.  

If a property has cladding that may contain asbestos, the property manager should check that it remains in good condition, with no cracking or broken areas. If the material has been damaged or started to degrade, the Health and Safety in the Workplace Act 2015 requires a professional to provide advice on the damage and how it should be removed and/or replaced. This person is required to be suitably qualified and licensed to able to deal with asbestos and its removal.

Communicating with tenants
In a home where asbestos or ACMs may be present, it’s important to have an open line of communication with the tenant. Your property manager should reassure tenants that asbestos is fine until it starts to break down. Tenants should notify the property manager if they notice any degrading or damage in-between inspections. 

If a tenant becomes concerned, they should contact their property manager in the first instance, like any other maintenance issue, and the property manager will make an assessment of whether to engage a suitably qualified professional to review the situation.  

Compliance and education is key

It’s important to work with a professional property manager to understand the Asbestos Regulations and their requirements. Ongoing education is also important.  There are plenty of resources about asbestos and for more information see worksafe.govt.nz. And when in doubt, obtain the assistance of a suitably qualified professional.

A short history of asbestos use in New Zealand

In New Zealand, asbestos and ACMs were used primarily between the 1940s through until 2000. Since 2016, the importation of asbestos has been banned.  

There’s a good reason behind the banning of asbestos and ACMs. In the 1960s, the then New Zealand Department of Health identified a link between cancer and having been exposed to asbestos fibres.

However, due to the robustness, strength and fire retardant properties of asbestos, large amounts of the material continued to be widely used in the New Zealand construction industry, despite the health risks. 

For property managers, homeowners and investors, this means there are many, many buildings in New Zealand that contain asbestos or ACMs. This includes industrial, commercial and residential buildings. 

Why is awareness important? 

It’s important to understand that these materials only become dangerous if disturbed or damaged. If the asbestos and ACMS are in good condition and remain undisturbed, these materials may not be of significant risk. However, if they’re in poor condition, are disturbed, damaged or crushed, fibres are likely to be released into the air. This is when asbestos and ACMs become hazardous to health. 

To mitigate the dangers of asbestos and ACMs, the Asbestos Regulations form the basis for managing these risks and ensuring the safety of all.    

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