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Asbestos Awareness for Residential Property Owners

A seminar by Patrick O'Connor, (Director of the newly formed Bristol based Chartered Building Surveyors, Kenneth & Edwards), on Asbestos in Property Transfers, for the Residential Property Team of Wards solicitors, had an immediate and unexpected consequence… two attendees immediately replaced their ironing boards!

We learned of the danger of asbestos to health and that asbestos currently results in some 4000 deaths per year, which is more than road traffic related accidents. We were shocked to learn that whilst the dangers of asbestos exposure were known as early as the 1920s, it was not completely banned from use until 1999.

Asbestos was widely used in domestic and non-domestic buildings. In domestic property it was used for numerous applications, such as:
· ceiling and wall coatings
· thermal insulation
· boiler insulation and pipe lagging
· guttering and guttering joints
· flooring materials
· roofing products
· acoustic pads on the underside of sinks, and last but not least:
· the hard standing for the iron on ironing boards.

It is commonly referred to as the 'hidden killer' and this is brought into sharp relief by a significant incidence of asbestos related deaths now being reported in teaching staff. The sudden draughts caused by incoming and exiting pupils, caused asbestos-containing ceiling tiles to be disturbed, exposing the teaching staff in these rooms to asbestos dust.

Those of us who thought this was an old problem, something which only relates to commercial buildings but certainly not to us, have had to think again.

Only owners of property built since the year 2000 can be sure that they are asbestos free. All property owners have a general duty of care to protect those working on property owned by or managed by them. This applies to commercial and residential property.

Buyers of flats are as a matter of routine advised by us of their liabilities in this respect in the context of 'communal areas'. The legislation is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, which came into force in November 2006. In brief, they impose obligations on owners and occupiers of non-domestic property to identify, record and manage asbestos. The obligation extends to and includes communal areas in domestic property, a fact that is not, in our experience, widely appreciated by flat owners or management companies.

Buildings constructed prior to the year 2000 must be presumed to contain asbestos unless a survey report can refute this. The 'duty holder' for the purposes of this legislation may include any one who is responsible for the building including the landlord, tenants and managing agents. Buildings need to be surveyed and a management plan put in place. This information must be made available to all builders, electricians and other contractors, as well as anyone else who could conceivably disturb asbestos-containing materials. There are strong penalties for any duty holder who fails to comply and ignorance is no defence. Flat owners have to ensure that there is an asbestos register and management plan in place for the communal areas or risk fines or criminal prosecution. The presence of asbestos will not necessarily require any remedial action to be taken.

Two types of survey report are available. The standard survey, or 'management survey' will involve minor intrusive investigation, to record the location and condition of reasonable accessible asbestos-containing materials. However if any work is to be carried out to the areas, however minor, which would involve disturbing any part of the fabric of the property then the more detailed 'refurbishment and demolition survey' would be required. This is a fully intrusive survey which will involve destructive inspection in order to access all areas where works are proposed. It is intended to identify all asbestos-containing materials that may conceivably be disturbed during the course of the works.

Whilst the law imposes duties and liabilities in the context of the legislation above, and with the emphasis on non-residential property, certainly those of us in older houses will be looking for Patrick's services to check our homes before carrying out any future works, and in two cases at least his first job is to remove the aforesaid ironing boards…..

Susan Ellis
Head of Residential Conveyancing
Wards solicitors

Patrick O'Connor BSc (Hons) MRICS
Kenneth and Edwards Limited
5 Summerhill Road, St George, Bristol, BS5 8HG
T: 01179 411 401

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