Knowledge and communication are the best tools for keeping you and your tenants safe from the hazards of asbestos and lead-based paint.
Managing older properties comes with added health and environmental risks because of lead-based paint and asbestos.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 24 million homes in the United States contain substantial lead paint hazards, says Steve Stein, president of Mount Valley Management in Harrisonburg, Va.
Both lead-based paint and asbestos carry their own risks and communicative guidelines when it comes to keeping tenants informed. Follow these tips for assessing older buildings and keeping tenants informed.
Known Health Risks of Asbestos
Asbestos and lead-based paint are common materials found in older properties, particularly those built prior to 1978, when the government halted production of lead-based paint. But newer rental units may still contain paint manufactured before the ban. Exposure to lead paint can cause stunted physical and mental development in children, while adults can experience irritability, poor muscle coordination, and nerve and reproductive damage.
Asbestos, a mineral fiber used in various older building construction materials for insulation and fireproofing, carries a long-term risk of chest and abdominal cancers, and lung disease.
In both cases, property managers will not be able to detect the presence of these hazardous materials by simply looking. If a manager does suspect either substance is present because of the property’s age, Stein suggests contacting an authorized contractor to get a recommendation on contaminant removal.
“The hard part is determining what is an asbestos hazard and what’s not,” Stein says. “If there is a concern, a property manager should get an assessment from a properly trained and licensed environmental hazard contractor before moving forward.”
When to Remove
In most instances, the presence of lead-based paint or asbestos does not warrant removal.
For paint, property managers recommend managing it rather than remediating it. The remediation process can release finite dust in the air and create bigger health risks for the tenant.
“Lead paint doesn’t become hazardous unless it becomes airborne,” explains John Parker, national chairman, governmental affairs, National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM). He recommends removal only if the paint in an older property is peeling or chipping, which can also be harmful if ingested, especially by small children. “In that case, it should be scraped and repainted before a tenant moves in.”
Stein says to be mindful of areas such as windows and doors, which are more susceptible to creating “lead dust” from opening and closing frames. For asbestos, he notes that building material — such as floor tiles, insulation wrap, exterior tile siding and tile roofing — should be thoroughly assessed by a qualified outside contractor to determine if the contaminant is present. All areas should be evaluated before proceeding with any repairs, and property managers should always expect the unexpected.
“One of my properties had a pipe wrapped with material that contained asbestos,” Stein says. “When animals were getting into the crawl space and scratching at it for nesting material, they created a potential biohazard.”
EPA regulations vary by state regarding tenant disclosure of lead-based paint and asbestos present in a property.
The 1992 Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act requires all property managers to issue the EPA-sponsored information pamphlet, “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home,” to new tenants, which is downloadable online. Additionally, most managers use a Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Form to ensure compliance with EPA regulatory standards.
Failure to issue one or both of these documents may subject all property managers to fines, liabilities, and civil and criminal penalties.
Although there are no laws in place for asbestos disclosure, Parker says it is still best to ensure legal protection by hiring a qualified contractor to assess and remove the contaminant if it may pose a health risk.
Looking Out Legally
Property managers can further protect themselves against tenant lawsuits associated with asbestos or lead-based paint contamination by checking with their attorneys and professional and general liability insurance companies before putting anything in a lease and checking with their property insurance company to see if repair or containment is needed.
“The owners or property manager’s insurance company may or may not have coverage for environmental hazards,” he says. “Consult with them and see how you should set up policies with respect to lead paint, asbestos and other potential environmental hazards.”
Parker says that written disclosure of the contaminant is often enough to shift the liability from the property to the tenant.
For more information on lead paint and asbestos hazards and regulations, visit www.epa.gov.