New changes in the Health and Safety at Work with regards to Asbestos could become the next big challenge that the Property Management industry needs to tackle.
Recently, Real-iQ attended a REINZ breakfast in Wellington where the keynote speaker addressed a room of Property Managers about pending law changes that will likely lead to more compliance being thrown on an industry already struggling to cope with changes to Health and Safety and the Residential Tenancies Act.
The news from this breakfast is that from April 2018, every property under management may need to contain an asbestos register if there is a risk that the property may contain asbestos. The consequences of this could be far reaching as many rental properties will be of an era where asbestos contaminated materials (or ACM's) where commonly used in construction.
If this is the case we will likely see specialised Asbestos Removal and Health and Safety companies targeting Property Management and Real Estate companies up and down the country trying to get their foot in the door and sell their services.
No doubt, some companies will use 'scare tactics' that we have become quite accustomed to seen in recent times through the Methamphetamine epidemic that is sweeping the country. The risk is that unsuspecting companies may be sucked in to signing up with companies without doing due diligence and not being educated on what the law actually says.
We have already had one client ask us about what their responsibility is as a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) as a company has already tried to sell an Asbestos Management style service to them. The company in question provided our client with information around regulations and a code of practice.
The company based their presentation around the basis that the PCBU needs to be able to identify potential Asbestos hazards around the workplace. One must jump to the conclusion that they are referring to all the properties under management.
This was backed up by the REINZ breakfast where the keynote speaker who was also pitching for business made the statement that any damage to property that may contain asbestos would require an independent qualified assessor to ascertain the risk. As this applies to buildings built in the pre mid 1990's it could mean approximately 75% or more of all rental stock would need an asbestos assessment plan as no Property Manager would have the skills required to identify what materials may contain ACM. They would simply err on the side of caution as fear of litigation and the consequences of getting it wrong would lead them to take a 'risk averse' approach.
At Real-iQ, we strongly believe that landlords have a social responsibility to provide safe compliant properties and eliminating exposure to Asbestos for tenants is a good idea. Unlike Meth contaminated properties where there is debate regarding the actual risk to occupants, there is no doubt that damaged or airborne Asbestos is a clear risk. However, what is confusing is how far do landlords and companies need to go to manage the risk.
Take a closer look at the regulations
Real-iQ have reviewed the new regulations and the approved Code of Practice for the management and removal of Asbestos material.
Under section 7.9 of the Code of Practice, it refers to requirement for homes. In this section it clearly states that asbestos records are not needed for a home. Though it continues to state that If a PCBU (company) is carrying out demolition, refurbishment or removal, or intending to carry out this work in a home identifies asbestos, the PCBU must tell the homeowner, landlord and occupant about the asbestos so they can keep themselves and others safe.
Our interpretation of the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations is that if major refurbishment or demolition of a home is to occur then the PCBU must inform all parties but when it comes to minor repairs this may not be necessary depending on the exposure to risk.
The concern we have is that Property Managers simply do not have the skill set to identify ACMs and the level of risk to unsuspecting tenants.
Is a rental property a workplace?
Is a rental property a home or is it a workplace? This is a question that caused much debate when the Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced last year. In reading the new regulations and the Code of Practice we have come to the conclusion that it isn't. It clearly states that records are not required for homes. Whether you own your own home or whether you are a tenant it makes no difference. Your home is your home.
What if a landlord wants to work on their own property?
This is where the Property Management company will need to take some control to protect themselves from the risk of litigation. Section 1.6.1 of the Code of Practice states that the Act, Regulations and Code do not apply to home occupants who conduct 'do it yourself' work on their own home.
However, Worksafe recommend that PCBUs need to have sufficient training and experience in working with ACMs due to significant health risks. It then goes onto say that Landlords are PCBUs and must comply with the Act and Regulations.
What does Worksafe say?
We contacted Worksafe for comment as to what are the risks to Property Management companies and their answer was a little vague. Their comment was PCBUs have a responsibility to manage and remove items that may be of risk so long as it is reasonably practical. In the case of a landlord or a Property Management company they may have a responsibility to remove the risk or they may be held liable.
What does Real-iQ recommend?
We will be putting pressure on organisations such as REINZ to provide guidelines on how to put best practices into the management of these new regulations. We also recommend that you provide training for Property Managers so they have a basic understanding on materials that may contain Asbestos. This will go some way to protecting you as a PCBU and your workers.
We will continue to do more research on this topic and we will provide a webinar on this towards the end of the year. For more information click this link to take you to the Worksafe Code of Practice.