Renting a home may come with certain unseen hazards.
One hazard that could cause serious harm to tenants, if exposed, is asbestos. Commonly found in homes built before the 1980s, asbestos was used in a variety of building materials such as pipe wrap, insulation, floor tile and popcorn ceilings. Friable (or easily crumbled) asbestos is known as a serious health threat, as it can become airborne and easily inhaled.
This article will explain why asbestos is dangerous, how to identify it and what to do if you suspect asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in your rental.
Asbestos: An extensive history in building
As creatures of comfort, we have continuously sought after new building materials to make our homes more efficient, cost-effective and, of course, comfortable. From brick and mortar to Tyvek and vinyl siding, new materials are continuously being discovered and used to make more efficient building materials. Updated methods and materials have helped newer homes become incredibly energy efficient and older homes are easily retrofitted, too.
Asbestos was no different, and at the peak of its use, ACMs were considered top-quality products. As the link between exposure to asbestos and serious health conditions like mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer became more clear, asbestos was slowly phased out of building products. It wasn’t until the 1980s when a partial ban occurred which stopped any new ACMs from being used. However, homes built mid-century are likely to contain this once widely used carcinogen.
Where might asbestos be?
Loose-fill insulation or pipe wrap are two insulating products that once contained asbestos. In attics and basements, asbestos-based insulation was easy to use and cost-effective for builders. Highly fire and chemical resistant, while remaining lightweight, asbestos-containing insulation products were convenient to work with while achieving outstanding value.
Asbestos was also used in popcorn ceilings, drywall applications, mortar mixes and cement. Its incredible strength provided drywall and masonry with added support. However, ACMs are still prone to deterioration. This is when asbestos fibers become dangerous.
Identifying asbestos and deciding what to do
It’s nearly impossible to identify ACMs with the naked eye. However, there are some clues that can help inform your decision. Having a general understanding of some of the products that used to contain asbestos is important. The next step is knowing if your rented home was built before the 1980s. Any item that was potentially made with asbestos should be treated as if it does until you have it tested. If the material is intact, it should be left alone. If the material is damaged or deteriorated and you suspect asbestos could become airborne, action should be taken.
The first step is to contact your landlord or leasing agent to request any documentation on asbestos tests performed in the past. Sometimes landlords or leasing companies may include this information with your lease. If they have, ensure that the documentation is from a licensed asbestos abatement professional. These individuals are the only ones who can safely perform the tests necessary and determine whether an ACM is safe in its current state.
If your landlord isn’t able to supply documentation of previous asbestos testing, ask them to have a test performed. As a resident, you should avoid trying to test, encapsulate or remove any ACMs yourself. This will only leave you liable in the future. Any reasonable landlord should willingly have tests performed — especially if building materials are deteriorating.
What if your landlord refuses to test?
If your landlord refuses to test the material in question there are a few things you can do. First, getting the material tested at your own expense will at least provide peace of mind. If the material does contain asbestos, it’s important to get an official assessment from a professional.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any specific regulations stating that landlords are required to remove asbestos or even make tenants aware of ACMs upon signing the lease agreement. Unlike lead paint, landlords aren’t even required to have suspected ACMs tested or inspected for safety before renting out a unit.
If airborne asbestos is present at dangerous levels — exceeding OSHA’s exposure limits — landlords must take action to mitigate the hazard. If the landlord remains negligent, one course of action is to prove that the residence is uninhabitable.
Protect yourself and your family
Unfortunately, many hazards often hide throughout the home. While some are obvious, like mold or water damage, others, like asbestos, may hide in the basement or attic. You can’t always protect yourself from these hazards, but you can make yourself more aware of some of the things in homes that could harm you and your loved ones. By doing so, we can mitigate risks to our health and improve the living conditions for ourselves and our families.