Loose-fill asbestos insulation guide
For real estate agency principals, their agents, property managers, strata managers and auctioneers
There are a number of obligations imposed on real estate agents by law in relation to asbestos located in the properties agents are engaged to sell or manage. These obligations include:
- a duty of care to the client and workers engaged to carry out work on the property
- a commitment to act honestly, fairly and professionally
- a responsibility to disclose certain matters to prospective buyers and tenants.
It is reasonable to assume that properties constructed before 1980 may contain loose-fill asbestos insulation.
Loose-fill asbestos insulation ('Mr Fluffy')
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, pure loose-fill asbestos was sold as ceiling insulation for residential and commercial premises. A Canberra based company known as 'Mr Fluffy' installed insulation in around 1,000 houses in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and is also understood to have installed insulation into homes in New South Wales (NSW). This insulation is particularly problematic because it is raw asbestos which is easy to disturb and fibres can be inhaled.
The NSW Government response to loose-fill asbestos insulation
The NSW Government, under the guidance of the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities, has taken a number of actions to address the issue of loose-fill asbestos in NSW. These include:
- Receiving updated advice from NSW Health.
- Announcing an independent investigation in August 2014 to establish the number of residential properties with ceiling insulation that may contain loose-fill asbestos material.
- The development of a Voluntary Purchase and Demolition Program for affected properties and the establishment of the Loose-Fill Asbestos Insulation Taskforce.
What should real estate agents do?
Real estate agents should have processes in place for complying with their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to, so far as is reasonably practicable, identify and manage the risks from loose-fill asbestos in relation to properties they lease and/or manage, or are engaged to sell.
The following steps are recommended:
- Agents should inform their principals that properties constructed before 1980 may contain loose-fill asbestos insulation.
- At the time of conducting their initial inspection, agents should ask their principal to complete a questionnaire which includes the following questions:
- What date was the property originally constructed?
- Has the property been renovated since it was originally built? If so, obtain details.
- Is the principal aware of the presence of any loose-fill asbestos insulation in the property?
- If yes, the principal should specify all locations where they believe loose-fill asbestos insulation is present.
- Has a Licensed Asbestos Assessor inspected the property for loose-fill asbestos insulation? If yes, is a copy of the report available?
- If, based on the instructions received from the principal, the agent becomes aware of the presence of loose-fill asbestos or suspects that loose-fill asbestos may be present on the property built prior to 1980, the agent should consider practical measures to ensure the health and safety of their workers, clients and others. In this regard, the agent should take the following steps:
- Request the owner of the premises arrange ceiling testing through a licensed asbestos assessor.
- Request the owner provide any test results to the agent.
- Request the owner informs the residents of the test result.
- If the likelihood of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres is high, the agent should exclude their workers and clients from approaching the site.
- If the owner declines to cooperate, the agent should contact Service NSW on 13 77 88 and seek further guidance.
Agents should also take the following precautions:
- Do not access or direct a person to access the ceiling space or sub floor areas.
- Do not drill or direct a person to drill into walls.
- Provide the owner with information about loose-fill asbestos insulation and recommendation for testing by a Licensed Asbestos Assessor.
- NSW Fair Trading advises that agents should be aware that the potential existence of loose-fill asbestos is a 'material fact' that should be disclosed to any persons interested in the property. The law provides significant penalties for agents who fail to disclose information that could influence decisions on whether to buy, sell or rent a property.
The information contained in this document is general only and is intended to provide guidance as to some of the issues which may arise in relation to the presence of loose-fill asbestos in properties being offered for sale or lease by real estate agents. It does not purport to be comprehensive. Accordingly, the NSW Government and Regulating Authorities expressly disclaim liability to any person relying on the contents of this document. Further and importantly, this document is not legal advice and should not be relied or acted upon as if it were. Agents and any other persons reading this document should obtain their own legal advice about their legal and other obligations. They should not rely on this document as a substitute for doing so.