Personal Injury Lawyer
If you live in a rental home and you suspect the presence of asbestos, do you have any legal recourse? If the asbestos has not been disturbed, Federal law does not require the landlord to disclose its presence because in its undisturbed state it is not dangerous. If the material that includes the asbestos has started to deteriorate, particles of asbestos can become airborne and that is where its presence becomes a serious health hazard.
State laws may differ, but Federal OSHA laws will always apply. The OSHA is the minimum required law and states can choose to make the laws harsher.
What Does OSHA Require of Landlords?
OSHA regulations assume any building built prior to 1981 contains asbestos. Every building built before then is legally required to be tested for asbestos. If a landlord has ten or more employees or hires subcontractors to make repairs to the buildings, the owners are required to make sure the building is safe from exposure to asbestos. Even if the asbestos material has not been disturbed, the building still needs to be tested by a professional and if present, this needs to be disclosed to tenants.
If for some reason the landlord has not had an inspection for asbestos, he is still obligated, by law, to disclose to the tenants that the presence of asbestos in the building is not known.
Just Because Asbestos is Found Does Not Mean it Must Be Removed
Asbestos is contained inside materials like vinyl tiles, wrapping ductwork, and older insulation. It is only dangerous when it becomes disturbed and airborne. This occurs when the materials are old and start to deteriorate or if construction is being done and the material is disturbed.
If the asbestos is contained and not in any danger of getting into the air because of deterioration and the inspection report shows that it is not required by law to be removed. If there are activities in the area that may, at some point, disturb the asbestos material, the law will require the landlord to inform its tenants of the presence of the asbestos an that it could at some point be dangerous.
What Recourse Do I Have if Asbestos is Found to Be a Dangerous Hazard?
If you are a tenant and find out about the potential hazard of asbestos where you live, your options are varied depending on if the landlord informed you of its presence when you signed the lease. If the asbestos is airborne, the tenant can:
- Threaten to break the lease or discount the rent until the asbestos threat has been remedied. This can be done legally through the concept called ‘warranty of habitability’ meaning it is implied when you sign the lease that the property is livable.
- Remain in the rental unit. If the landlord has disclosed the asbestos issue the tenant cannot sue the landlord at a later date if the asbestos is not removed unless the owner says they will remove the asbestos and then does not follow through.
So really your choices are, leave or pay a reduced rent unless the landlord removes the asbestos. The landlord then has to decide which is more financially feasible for him or her — the lost rent or the cost of remediating the asbestos.
If the landlord knew about the airborne asbestos and failed to notify the tenants or did nothing to fix the problem, the tenant has the right to sue the landlord for compensation and damages for injuries resulting from the exposure. If this sounds like your situation, contact an attorney with experience in asbestos exposure and asbestos removal Malibu, CA offers to talk about the next steps to take.
Thank you to our friends and contributors at Nielsen Environmental for their insight into asbestos removal and lawsuits.