Asbestos is a highly toxic material that was used widely in building homes, garages, sheds and other structures until the mid-1980s. It’s thought one in three properties contain it, meaning there's a good chance that you may be renting a house or apartment with asbestos.
It’s a deadly legacy of the building trade and continues to harm people to this day. Exposure to the microscopic fibres can cause serious health issues, including an aggressive cancer, mesothelioma.
Many renters will find themselves looking at or living in property from that period, so it’s vital to know what to look out for, and your rights and protections when it comes to renting a property that might be built with asbestos products.
Asbestos was traditionally used in the eaves, internal and external wall cladding, ceilings and the lining behind and underneath tiles.
While generally safe kept in good condition and sealed, problems arise when it’s disturbed, exposed to the elements, cut or broken.
When inspecting a property, consider its age and condition. Look out for any areas where asbestos might be deteriorating or disturbed.
Structures outside the home such as garages, sheds and bungalows tend to be older and in disrepair, so potentially a higher risk.
Your rental provider has a legal duty to tell you if an inspection by a suitably qualified person has discovered any of a number of dangerous or toxic substances – including asbestos.
This has to be disclosed to you before you sign a lease, under an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (‘the Act’) (Vic), which came into force in March 2021.
It's always worth asking if there's asbestos when you're looking for a new rental property. But, there’s a loophole in the law. If the rental provider is aware of asbestos, but has not had the property professionally inspected, they don’t have to volunteer that information.
To be in the best position, ask prior to signing the lease if they are aware of any asbestos at the property.
If they are, but don’t tell you, they may have breached section 30E(3)(d) of the Act, which prohibits them from inducing you to sign the lease by providing a misleading representation.
You can also ask at any time – even after you’ve moved in - and they have an obligation to be honest with you.
Related article: How to know if you have asbestos in your house?
It is legal to rent a house with asbestos, however, a landlord has to ensure that the rented premises is maintained in good repair, according to section 68 of the Act. A tenant could argue that a hole in a wall or roof that contains crumbling or deteriorating asbestos products was not fulfilling that obligation.
This is worth raising with your rental provider and asking them to repair any asbestos products kept in poor condition.
If the rental provider refuses to repair the damaged asbestos products you are able to issue them with a notice for breaching their duty to you as a tenant under section 208 of the Act and follow the process to have it repaired or vacate the premises depending on your desired outcome.
Tenants are now able to make minor modifications that are rectifiable to the property without the consent of the landlord. If these modifications involve hammering, drilling or otherwise penetrating walls, the ceiling or eaves of a property, safety precautions should be taken.
If you suspect that the property may contain asbestos, check with your rental provider.
If they do not know whether it contains asbestos and the house was built pre the mid-1980s, it is best to proceed with caution and consider gettingthe house tested before making any modifications. There is no obligation for the landlord to pay for this, however it’s worth tenants asking for it.
If you have been exposed to asbestos dust in your rental property and have developed any asbetos related disease, you may be eligible to make a claim. It's important to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you have any concerns about possible asbestos exposure, and then to seek legal advice to understand your options.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Australian Capital Territory. If you need a lawyer in Canberra or elsewhere in Australian Capital Territory, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.