I’m worried there’s asbestos in my flat

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What is asbestos?

‘Asbestos’ is a word describing a group of minerals that are made up of tiny fibres.

Before its dangers were understood, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were often used in buildings, including in flooring, roofs, walls and ceilings. This is because asbestos stops fire from spreading and can be good insulation.

When asbestos materials are disturbed, the tiny fibres can break down and be released into the air. Inhaling them can cause long term damage to your lungs.

Asbestos-related disease usually takes many years to show up. In 1999 the manufacture and supply of asbestos was banned in the UK, but it is still present in many buildings today. However, if you know your block was built in or after 2000, you shouldn’t have to worry.

Find out more about asbestos and its dangers on the Health and Safety Executive website.

What does the law say?

Common parts

In 2004 the law changed to say that landlords must:

  • Check whether there is asbestos in common areas of the building. This means areas such as corridors, foyers, etc, rather than inside flats: that’s because this law was created for commercial premises, not residential ones, and common parts of rented accommodation fall under this description.
  • If there is, assess its condition and whether there is any danger (undamaged asbestos is safe so long as it is not disturbed).
  • If it is found to be dangerous (ie likely to release fibres), create a plan to deal with it. This must be by disposing of it or sealing it
  • .If it is not any immediate danger it must be labelled, so that anyone doing future work knows that it is there.
  • People dealing with asbestos must be suitably trained, and both workers and residents must be protected while the work is taking place.

Inside flats

When it comes to your flat, the law usually (depending on your tenancy agreement) requires that your landlord conducts a risk assessment before any work is done, and this would pick up the presence of asbestos along with any other risks the work might involve.

Also, if you suspect there is asbestos in your flat, and you report it to your landlord, they must investigate and take action if found to be necessary.

The Shelter website says:

From 1 April 2013, if a landlord registered as a provider of social housing (including a local authority) fails or delays to act on an occupier’s report of asbestos in the premises, the occupier can also complain to the Housing Ombudsman Service following the appropriate complaint procedure.

In Scotland, a complaint may be made to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

If you damage party of your flat and you suspect that it contains asbestos you must tell your landlord as soon as possible.

A real life example

Council tenant Karen Connelly discovered that there was asbestos in the ceiling, walls and floors of her flat, as reported in The Mirror.

A BBC article describes the steps that Karen took to take action:

  • Having an independent survey of her flat
  • Campaigning for a change to the law to make it compulsory for tenants to be informed of any asbestos in their homes.

What action can I take if I’m concerned about asbestos in my home?

Links to read

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