Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre that was often used in the construction of homes and other buildings until the late 1990s, before the dangers of asbestos were known. It was often used for insulation and can be found in flooring, ceilings and the walls of buildings. It is accepted that if the materials containing asbestos are undisturbed, undamaged and in good condition, the asbestos fibres should not be released into the air and should therefore pose minimum risk to your health. However, should the asbestos fibres become airborne because the materials are disturbed due to works or because the materials are fraying or crumbling due to its age and condition, breathing in the fibres can cause serious damage to the lungs, which may result in a type of cancer called Mesothelioma and other lung diseases.
Since 1999, it has become illegal in the United Kingdom to use asbestos in the construction of buildings, but buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still contain asbestos.
If you are looking to purchase an older house and have plans to carry out building works on the property, it would be sensible to consider commissioning an asbestos survey. The survey will reveal if there are any asbestos-containing materials (ACM) present at the property and means that you can plan and budget for any measures that are needed to be put in place to manage the risk of exposure before you commit to buying the property and taking on the renovation project.
The disturbance or removal of ACM can be dangerous and should only be carried out by a licenced or competent contractor. The asbestos waste should be disposed of carefully and only be handled by a licenced disposal site. You can obtain details of the location of these from the Local Authority.
It should be noted that it is not a legal requirement for an asbestos survey to be carried out on domestic homes. It is likely that the buyer will need to bear the cost of the survey if this is something they require.
If you are looking to purchase a flat where the building was constructed before the year 2000 (this includes a house that has been converted into flats), whilst again there is no legal requirement for asbestos surveys to be carried out on the flat itself, those who have the responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the building, who are likely to be the Landlord or Management Company, have a duty to manage asbestos in public areas or common parts of the building such as the corridors, staircases, foyers, lifts, roof spaces and shared parking areas. This is a legal requirement under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
This means that the Landlord or Management Company have a duty to assess the presence and condition of any ACM within the common parts of the building, and if asbestos is present, or is presumed to be present, then it must be managed appropriately. The Landlord or Management Company should put a management plan in place which will contain information about the location and the current condition of the ACM in the building. As the ACM may deteriorate over time, potentially releasing asbestos into the air, the management plan should be updated on a regular basis after regular inspections of the building. The costs of the asbestos surveys and subsequent management of any ACM are likely to be charged to the owners of the flats through service charges.
The solicitor acting for you on your purchase of the flat should request a copy of any asbestos survey commissioned if this is not already contained within the management pack supplied by the Landlord and/or Management Company.
If you have any more questions or would like more information, you can contact our Residential Property Team below.