Asbestos is a dangerous and insidious material that can be found in many older buildings. Even though federal regulations in the 1970s limited its use, if you are renting a home built before the 1980s, be aware that it may contain asbestos. This doesn’t mean it is causing harm, but there is always the potential that it will cause exposure. Renters have rights, and you need to know how to deal with finding or suspecting asbestos in your home.
What is Asbestos? And Where is it?
Asbestos is a natural mineral that was used for several decades in construction and other industries. It is mined from the ground and was long prized because it resists fire, heat, and electricity. It is also lightweight and flexible. It adds strength, fireproofing, and insulation to materials.
Residential buildings constructed before the regulations limiting asbestos existed may still contain the material in several places. Older homes most commonly contain asbestos in the insulation around boilers and pipes. It may also be in attic insulation, plaster, siding, floor tile adhesive, roofing materials, and window caulking.
Why Should I Be Worried?
When the fibers of asbestos are released from a material, anyone near it may inhale or ingest them with dust in the space. These fibers are tiny and sharp and tend to lodge in tissues in the body. Any exposure is risky, but prolonged exposure is most often associated with diseases like pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
Do I Need to Do Anything about Suspected or Known Asbestos?
The presence of asbestos does not necessarily mean you are being exposed to the fibers. When asbestos-containing materials are well-maintained and intact, the fibers remain contained within them and don’t cause exposure. Materials that are crumbling, falling apart, have been damaged, or have been disrupted by maintenance work may trigger the release of fibers and exposure.
Does my Landlord Have to Inform me of Asbestos?
If you discover or suspect asbestos is present in your apartment, you have a right to ask your landlord to do an inspection. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a landlord is obligated to inform tenants of the presence of asbestos, or if they're unaware of asbestos. This is required unless the building is newer or the landlord does all maintenance and repair work himself or herself. The biggest risk with asbestos is when maintenance or renovation work is done in a building that contains it. If your landlord is having work done, he or she must tell you about it and asbestos is present so you can take steps to protect yourself.
Approaching Your Landlord with Concerns
Even if you are not seeing work done in the building, you can contact your landlord about asbestos concerns and request action. Landlords are legally obligated to provide habitable living spaces, although not required to provide asbestos-free spaces. If you are worried asbestos could be damaged or causing exposure, make a request in writing for a professional inspection. If there is an issue and materials need to be abated, you can also request reimbursement for alternative housing if you cannot safely stay in your apartment for a period of time.
You have a right as a renter to a habitable home and your landlord is obligated to take all reasonable steps to keep you from being harmed by the building. If you feel this is being neglected, speak up. Make all requests in writing and keep copies of your letters and any responses you get in the event you need to take legal action.