Older properties can harbor hidden dangers in the form of asbestos and the multiple serious and fatal diseases linked to inhaling asbestos fibers. But how can you manage these risks and ensure tenant safety? How can you limit potential liabilities and safeguard your investments? How much does it cost to professionally remediate asbestos? We’ll cover these questions and more in this article, as well as our personal experience managing asbestos in our rental properties.
Asbestos, once hailed as a “magic mineral” for its fireproof properties, has over time been recognized as a significant health risk. As a real estate investor, especially in older properties, understanding asbestos and how to handle it is crucial. This article will guide you through the risks associated with asbestos, how to manage it if undisturbed, and what to do if construction or renovation might stir it up.
The Risks of Asbestos
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, used extensively in construction materials like insulation, tiles, and shingles during the mid-20th century. The danger of asbestos lies in its microscopic, needle-like fibers. When materials containing asbestos are disturbed, these fibers can become airborne and, if inhaled, can lodge in the lungs.
Long-term inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to serious and fatal diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
When asbestos is undisturbed
The good news is that if asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in a property are in good condition and undisturbed, they generally don’t present an immediate risk. The asbestos fibers are effectively “locked” in the material and aren’t released into the air.
So the goal is to keep it that way.
known asbestos in flooring or walls of your property, it would be good to regularly check for signs of wear or damage. Be sure to document their condition and location.
It would also be a good idea to inform your tenants about the presence of asbestos, emphasizing the importance of reporting any damage and not undertaking any DIY repairs or alterations in areas with asbestos.
If you have ACMs in an area that isn’t commonly used by tenants, you can restrict access to those areas, especially if there’s a risk of accidental damage. For example, we had asbestos covering some pipes in a basement area of one of our properties. Tenants didn’t need to access the basement, so it was easy to restrict access to this area.
When asbestos is disturbed
Asbestos-containing materials can become compromised over time. When this happens, the dangerous asbestos fibers can become airborne and create a health risk.
We had a property where the material that was used to contain the known ACM started breaking down. This was found on a routine inspection and we immediately addressed it by calling a remediation company.
Managing Asbestos during Construction
If you’re planning construction or renovation works on a property with asbestos, the risks of disturbing it escalate.
Before commencing construction, it’s important to engage an accredited asbestos surveyor to determine the presence, type, and condition of asbestos. This can be either a management survey for basic maintenance or a refurbishment/demolition survey if more extensive works are planned. You will need to ensure all workers are aware of ACM locations and have the necessary training and equipment to work safely.
If there’s a significant risk of disturbance, it might be safer and more cost-effective in the long run to have the asbestos professionally removed before the works begin. This is what we ended up doing for our 160-unit property. We had a wall containing asbestos professionally removed before renovating the units.
Asbestos Remediation Process
If ACMs are damaged, deteriorating, or will be disturbed during construction, remediation becomes necessary.
Due to the health risks, many jurisdictions require that asbestos abatement is carried out by licensed professionals. They have the required equipment, training, and knowledge to handle asbestos safely.
The first step in remediation is containment. The licensed professional seals off the affected area to prevent the spread of fibers. Workers wear protective clothing and respirators. ACMs are then wetted to minimize fiber release and carefully removed. Finally, the asbestos is then sealed in labeled bags and disposed of at licensed facilities. After removal, the air in the affected area is then tested to ensure no asbestos fibers remain.
How much does asbestos remediation cost?
While the cost can vary significantly depending on the ACM, the location of the asbestos, and the amount of asbestos that has to be removed, I wanted to provide some ballpark figures based on our experience so you can get an idea of the cost.
We had asbestos in a wall that we were removing as part of our renovation. So it was just one relatively small wall in each unit. We were doing 160 units so we got a volume discount. Each unit cost around $1,000.
We also had to remove asbestos that was breaking down in another one of our properties. It covered pipes in multiple areas and I would estimate the length of the pipe was about 50 feet in total. This removal cost $2,500.
So this gives you a sense of the cost. It’s not inexpensive but it’s also not prohibitively expensive either.
Asbestos in rental properties demands respect and diligence. While undisturbed asbestos may not present an immediate threat, a proactive approach to management and a thorough understanding of safe practices during construction are vital. Always prioritize the health of your tenants, workers, and yourself when dealing with this hazardous material.
Before the asbestos wall was removed
After the asbestos wall was removed
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