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How to deal with asbestos when buying or selling a property

Many of us live with asbestos in our properties, workplaces and even our homes, and we may not even be aware that it’s present. Generally, as long as this remains undisturbed, it’s considered to be safe as asbestos only becomes a hazard when it’s disturbed and the fibres it contains are released into the air. If these are inhaled, it can pose a serious health risk. For instance, asbestos could be dangerous to individuals who carry out renovation work in an area where it’s present, or if this happens to be in an area of the property where it can become disturbed over time.

As stated on the NHS website, exposure to the tiny fibres present in asbestos can eventually lead to mesothelioma, a type of cancer that usually affects the lining of the lungs but can also affect other areas of the body. Therefore, asbestos in a property must be taken seriously, not just for health reasons, but also to stay compliant with the law, in-line with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. In this blog, we’ll outline which properties are the most likely to have asbestos, how this can be dealt with in a safe and non-hazardous way, as well as what this can mean if you’re looking to buy or sell an affected property. 

What is asbestos?

A naturally-occurring material with strong heat resistant properties, asbestos was once the most popular choice for insulating homes and buildings. Despite the benefits it provided, however,

due to its carcinogenic properties asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999. While it can no-longer be introduced to new builds or used as insulation in renovation work, this banned material can still be found in properties built before this rule came into place. 

If your property was built on or after the year 2000, it shouldn’t contain asbestos. However, if your property was built or refurbished prior to the year 2000, it’s more likely to contain this mineral. With this in mind, the chances of this are likely to be greater in a building that was constructed or refurbished before 1985. This is because the mid-1980s saw the enforcement of the Asbestos Prohibition Regulations 1985, banning blue and brown asbestos (crocidolite and amosite) from being used. However, white asbestos (chrysotile), which still poses a hazard, was used beyond 1985, and, in some cases, up until the late 90s.

Where to find asbestos

Up until the end of 1999, asbestos was used in various building materials, including pipe lagging, ceiling or floor cavities, as well as materials used in roofs, around airing cupboards and water tanks and more. Since this can be found in so many areas in older properties, it’s important to understand the risks and know how these can be dealt with should you buy or sell a property. Though a property with asbestos can be sold, the Property Misdescriptions Act 2013 means that you could be prosecuted for not informing prospective buyers about any asbestos present, while this could also invalidate the sale of the property. 

How can you identify asbestos?

As a property owner, even if the building is vacant or derelict, it’s your responsibility to identify and manage any asbestos in the building, which may mean having a plan for managing the risk. In the majority of cases, asbestos only tends to become an issue when it’s disturbed, so the best course of action is to leave this untouched. 

Depending on the contract or lease, duties of managing asbestos may also extend to the tenant or managing agent of a commercial property, though it ultimately remains the owner’s responsibility if they fail to fulfill their duties. These responsibilities include finding out if asbestos is present, which can be done through conducting a survey and a risk assessment. There are two different types of survey that can be done: 

A management survey

This checks if asbestos is present, in good condition and whether this is likely to be disturbed through everyday activities. In simple buildings, you may be able to carry out these checks yourself. Though HSE has a photo gallery of some common asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), we recommend finding an accredited surveyor through the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, UKAS. To help minimise the risk of exposure, the survey must be provided to anyone who is likely to carry out any work on the property.

A refurbishment/demolition survey

A refurbishment or demolition survey is required if you’re planning to do any work on the building. This requires a surveyor, and the survey will locate and identify asbestos-containing materials before work begins, setting out steps to ensure the work is carried out by the correct professionals and that nobody will be harmed in the process.

Failure to have a plan in place to deal with asbestos and put it into action means that you could face a £20,000 fine, or even 12 months in prison. The penalties for serious breaches are even higher, with unlimited fines and prison for up to two years. 

What to do when you find asbestos

If asbestos is detected in a property, this can potentially affect the sale price of the building, but this depends on a few different factors, such as the amount of asbestos found in the property and its location. Asbestos is expensive to remove and the price of the property may be lowered to reflect the work that will be needed to remove this if it poses a risk. If costs allow, it may be worth hiring a professional to remove the asbestos before putting the property on the market, meaning there may be less of an impact on price.

However, in some cases, leaving the asbestos where it is may be the best option. Again, this is all down to the condition and location of the asbestos. For instance, if it’s in a good condition and isn’t in a location where it could become easily damaged or disturbed. If this is the case, professionals may still need to treat this to ensure it doesn’t become dangerous in the future, such as placing a coating or covering on the site so the fibres remain in place.Of course, it’s still possible that the asbestos might need to be removed if it is damaged, turns out to be in a bad condition, or is in a place where it could potentially be disturbed. 

Ultimately, if you are selling a property that contains asbestos, even if it doesn’t pose a direct risk, you can’t predict how the buyer will react to this mineral being present in the home. Even so, legally, there aren’t any regulations that would prevent you from selling a property that contains asbestos.

Working on a property with asbestos

Whether you’re looking to renovate a property to sell, or you’ve recently bought the property and want to complete work without compromising your own health, there are certain asbestos regulations you will need to follow. Jobs that are classed as licensable work such as dealing with high-risk materials, including pipe insulation and asbestos insulating panels must be done by a licensed contractor who are trained to safely complete the job. However, if it’s a smaller job, the criteria for non-licenced work with asbestos outlined by HSE lists all the instances where you wouldn’t need a licence to carry out the work. 

It’s important to note that any asbestos-containing materials (ACM’s) removed from a property cannot be sold or given away by law and must be disposed of as hazardous waste; your local authority will have information about disposal points or collection. Some of these jobs will require additional record-keeping and are considered notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW). This means the work does not require a licence, but the relevant enforcing authority must be informed. This is the local authority for shops, offices and churches, and the HSE for factories and factory offices. 

Selling your property with SDL Property Auctions

The presence of asbestos in a property is definitely something you will need to take seriously. If you need to refurbish or demolish a property containing ACMs, you should expect it to take longer and involve a lot more planning and preparation than normal. 

However, it’s understandable that you may simply not have the time or resources to tackle the problem. If this is the case, we are happy to help you sell your property for the best price possible. If you’re looking to auction your property with us, request a free sales valuation today. While the presence of ACMs must be declared in response to any enquiries from potential buyers, we have a network of serious investors who have experience in this area and will not see this as a deterrent.