Asbestos – what is it and what can I do about it?

UPDATE: if you are concerned about the presence of “Mr Fluffy” asbestos in your home, or have received a letter from the ACT Government stating that your property may have traces of Mr Fluffy asbestos you should register with the ACT Government’s Asbestos Taskforce, for information, advice and financial assistance. 

Tenants contact us with concerns about the presence of asbestos in their rental properties.  This FAQ aims to provide some basic information about asbestos, where it can be found, when it is dangerous and what you can do about it.  If, after reading this factsheet you require specific advice about asbestos and your tenancy contact the Tenants Advice Service.  If you want to learn more about asbestos or find a licensed asbestos assessor/removalist then please visit the ACT Government’s Asbestos Awareness website here.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a building material that can withstand heat, erosion and decay. It is a naturally occurring substance which looks a bit like fabric fibres or wool. It was widely used in residential properties until the 1980s but has now been banned nationally since 2004. There are 2 types of asbestos, bonded and friable.  Bonded asbestos is mixed in with concrete and usually cannot be crumbled by hand.  Friable asbestos is very crumbly, dusty or powdery and can be sprayed onto surfaces. It is not always possible to tell if a building material is made of asbestos just by looking at it.

When is it dangerous?

Generally if asbestos is bonded asbestos, has not been disturbed and is in good condition then it may not pose any risk at all to you. However when a building material breaks or deteriorates or is disturbed (creating dust) then the potential exposure to asbestos fibres is more likely.

Friable asbestos can be dangerous if you have any contact with it, or if it is allowed to escape from areas where it has been contained.

Inhaling or ingested asbestos fibres can cause serious health hazards. Exposure to asbestos usually occurs during repairs or renovations to properties containing asbestos. It can also occur if the building material which contains asbestos is damaged e.g. a crack in a wall.

Where might it be in your house?

In the ACT, if your house was built before 1985, there’s a good chance that it contains asbestos (though this date may vary slightly in some cases).

Many homes built before 1985 will have building materials containing bonded asbestos and these are most commonly in the bathroom, laundry, kitchen, eaves and garage/shed of a house. You can find out more information about where asbestos might be located in your house here.

Some houses in Canberra also had friable asbestos used in their construction.  This was most commonly in the form of insulation which can be found in the walls and ceilings.

Mr Fluffy houses

In recognition of the public health risks associated with loose-fill (friable) asbestos insulation, there was a Loose Asbestos Insulation Removal Program in the ACT in the late 1980’s.  It is unlikely however that the Program removed all the loose-fill asbestos insulation in all ACT homes.

Recently the ACT Government discovered that there is friable asbestos in around 1000 Canberra homes which was installed by a company known as Mr Fluffy.  The Government has sent letters to all the affected households, warning them that they may have dangerous loose asbestos in their homes. If you have received one of these letters and have concerns about your tenancy then please call the Tenants Advice Service.

How can I find out if my house has asbestos?

The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 states that:

  • if there is an asbestos assessment report for the premises and the landlord can obtain a copy of the report after taking reasonable steps, they must provide the tenant with a copy of the report;
  • If there is no asbestos assessment for the premises or the lessor cannot obtain the asbestos assessment report for the premises after taking reasonable steps, they must provide the tenant with the Asbestos Advice for the premises.

If there is no asbestos report for your property then the only way to find out if your property has asbestos in it is to get a licensed asbestos assessor to inspect your property. If you have good reasons to believe that there is loose asbestos in your property, it may be possible to get the landlord to pay for an inspection.

What to do if you suspect there is asbestos loose/disturbed?

Do not touch the area, try to close off the room/area until you are able to get in touch with your landlord or real estate agent.

The landlord has an obligation to maintain your property in a reasonable state of repair, so if you have concerns about asbestos you should notify the landlord or real estate agent straight away. In many circumstances it may be necessary for the landlord to get a licensed asbestos assessor to inspection your property.

In the ACT only licensed assessors can inspect the property, give you their opinion on whether or not it is dangerous and provide recommendations on how to manage it. Only licensed asbestos removalists can remove asbestos from a property.

The landlord must also ensure that a copy of the asbestos assessment report for a property is provided to any person doing repair work on a property.

Can you move out? What happens to the rent?

If it is confirmed that there is asbestos loose in your property then you should ask the asbestos assessor what you should do to manage the risk.  If the assessor recommends you leave the property for a period of time or permanently you should then speak to your landlord or real estate agent about this. You should seek legal advice if you are unsure what to do.

Moving out

Under the Standard Residential Tenancy Terms if your property is uninhabitable due to the presence of asbestos then you might be able to terminate the tenancy agreement and move out. If you want to move out because the property is uninhabitable then we recommend you seek advice on making an urgent application to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have your tenancy terminated under clauses 86 and 87 of the tenancy agreement. An urgent application can be considered within 1 week. However if your landlord agrees that the property is uninhabitable (with confirmation in writing) then the tenancy agreement states that you need to give at least 2 days’ notice of termination and rent stops at that time (clauses 86 and 87).

Staying

If you don’t want (or need) to move out permanently then you may just be able to move out while the asbestos is safely removed. If you do move out temporarily then the rent will stop until you can move in again (clause 87.3).

What happens if your personal property is contaminated?

You should ask the asbestos assessor whether there is a possibility that your personal items (e.g. furniture, kids toys, clothing) have been contaminated by asbestos.  If it has been then you should find out if anything can be done to deal with this problem.  If you have to throw away personal items due to asbestos contamination then you may be able to seek some compensation for the loss of these items from the landlord, or from the landlord’s insurer.

Remember:

If any of these issues occur remember to:

  • contact your landlord or real estate agent in writing and keep a copy of any communication (email is good for this as it records dates and times);
  • keep records of any attempts you make call your landlord or property manager. Record what you said if you had to leave a message;
  • If you or the landlord get a licensed asbestos assessor to come to your home to do an assessment, make sure they provide you with a comprehensive written report of the assessment
  • confirm in writing any discussions you have with your landlord or real estate agent – including any agreements made

  • take photos (with date stamps) of any areas of concern, both issues with the property and also of any personal items that you think have been affected
  • keep records of any contact you have with asbestos assessors or ACT Government staff (who you spoke to, date and time you spoke with them and what you were told).

Where can I get advice?

You can see advice on this issue from the Tenants Advice Service.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Tenants’ Union ACT publishes this website as a free service to the public.

This website provides information about the law designed to help users understand their legal rights and obligations. However legal information is not the same as legal advice (the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances). Although we make all efforts to ensure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult the Tenants Advice Service for advice specific to your circumstances. You are also free to consult an independent solicitor for a second opinion.

Please note that this website is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice or opinions and the transmission of this information is NOT intended to create a solicitor-client relationship between the Tenants’ Union ACT and members of the public.

Tenants’ Union ACT makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currency, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Please note that the information on this site is only relevant to renters in the ACT Please also note when the page was last updated, as the law may have changed.