To begin, the short answer is, “yes.” But there is no mandatory federal or state law requiring the disclosure of asbestos like the ones with lead paint and even radon in certain areas, unless you (the landlord) are aware of its existence and it’s significant enough to pose a threat. Your duty as a landlord is to reasonably protect tenants from asbestos exposure and this duty was enacted based on OSHA regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates your requirement to keep maintenance personnel, as well as other contractors, protected from asbestos. And, once you know about any potential asbestos risks, you are required to notify your tenant(s) and protect them from exposure.
If your rental property was built before 1981, you are required to have the part of the property being worked on tested for asbestos when any repair or maintenance work is done – unless you have previously had the property thoroughly tested from top to bottom by a licensed asbestos inspector. Unlike with lead regulations, what you don’t know about asbestos in the property can come back to haunt you. It is assumed that there is asbestos in all pre-1981 property – unless the entire property has been inspected. The risk of exposure to asbestos is complicated by the fact that it can be in just about any place in a pre-1981 property – vinyl flooring, textured wall or ceiling, insulation, wiring, caulking, roof shingles, etc.
So, what do you do if you have to have something repaired at your pre-1981 property? Your safest bet is to hire someone to do the work and it get in writing from them that part of their responsibility will be to test for asbestos before starting any work. If asbestos is found, immediately notify your tenant(s) and reiterate the warning in writing. Take a moment to consider if the work really needs to be done – asbestos typically is not hazardous if it is not disturbed, so maybe you are better off not doing that remodeling job. If you must do the work, be sure to notify your tenant(s) in advance and cordon off the area if possible.
If you are aware of any asbestos in the property, be sure to put a disclosure in your lease agreement that instructs the tenant not to make any repairs or modifications to that specific area of the property (e.g. the walls, because there is asbestos in the insulation behind them), and also requires them to notify you of any damage to an asbestos containing item. For more information on asbestos and its impact, visit the Environmental Protection Agency website.