Calls for mandatory asbestos disclosure

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The disclosure of whether asbestos is located within a property should become mandatory in New South Wales according to one of the state’s peak real estate bodies.

The Real Estate Institute of New South Wales (REINSW) has called for the state government to introduce an Asbestos Act, which would result in a specific government agency tasked with developing a state-wide plan to manage and remove the material.

This would include requiring property owners to disclose to any potential buyers or tenants whether a property contains any form of asbestos.

REINSW chief executive officer Tim McKibbin said the move would allow buyers to make informed decisions about an issue that could seriously affect their lives.

“Asbestos is a potentially fatal issue and we think there should be a report presented before somebody purchases or rents a property that outlines whether it contains asbestos or not,” McKibbin said.

“In our opinion people who are making a decision that could have serious health repercussions in the future should have all the relevant information in front of them. If you want to sell a house that has a swimming pool you have to be able to show that it’s compliant and we think there should be a similar requirement for asbestos,” he said.

According to NSW Fair Trading, property owners will be required to disclose in the future if a property contains loose-fill asbestos, a type of crushed asbestos used for insulation, but McKibbin believes the government should go further than that.

“In instances where asbestos has been used in building products it is effectively safe until it’s disturbed and the fibres get into the air, but people should be warned that they, or somebody else could be in danger if they decide to cut into a wall or something.

“I’ve known people who have been absolutely set on buying a property only to decide not to when a building report comes back and says it has something like a structural issue that could cause problems down the track and they should have that same opportunity if there’s asbestos present.”

While he agrees that requiring people to disclose the presence of asbestos in a property could hurt a property's resale value or its attractiveness as rental accommodation, McKibbin believes it’s a necessary step.

“I do feel sorry for those people who may have unknowingly bought a house with asbestos in it and would see some of its value decrease, but I don’t think people should just be able to keep passing any potential problem onto others. Asbestos is too big of an issue for that and at some point we have to say we’re going to really do something about it.

“If we require people to disclose asbestos it’s really going to help us map out where it is and that means we’ll be able to make better decisions on how to deal with the problem.”
NSW Fair Trading is currently operating the Loose-fill Asbestos Implementation Taskforce, which is offering free testing to owners of property built before 1980 in 28 local government areas where it is believed loose-fill asbestos was used as insulation.

Owner of properties identified to be containing loose-fill asbestos are then able to participate in a voluntary buyback problem.

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