Rehabbers Beware: How to Avoid Asbestos-Related Health Concerns (& Lawsuits!)

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Just last week in Portland, a real estate investor hired six people from a local work agency to gut a 106-year-old house so he could remodel and sell it. All of the materials inside the were put into dumpsters in the front yard. It was later found that some of those materials contained asbestos. Asbestos is very common in older homes.

Asbestos is also a carcinogen when inhaled. By not giving the workers the correct training and not providing them with the proper protection (suits, respirators and asbestos containment), prosecutors said he caused “substantial risk of serious physical injury” to the workers and to the neighbors nearby. There is no safe concentration of asbestos when inhaled.

The investor was charged with reckless endangerment and second degree unlawful air pollution. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 80 hours of community service, two years of probation and $20,200 in fines. He did know there was likely asbestos in the house. 

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is one of six naturally occurring minerals. It’s very durable, heat resistant and doesn’t readily break down. These properties made it ideal for use in building materials.

Related: The Investor’s Guide to Vetting a Rental: What to Look For on the Exterior

Where is asbestos?

Asbestos was made into shingles, cement, siding, flooring tiles, some popcorn ceilings and insulation for pipes, ducts, walls and ceilings. For a more complete list, click here.

When was it used the most?

From the 1940s to the 1970s asbestos was used extensively. If the home was built after 1980, the chances of having asbestos are small because the federal government banned most asbestos containing materials by 1978.

What’s the problem?

Asbestos-related cancer is a form of lung cancer, which “is the most common cause of cancer death in the United States.” If asbestos is made into fibers from sanding, drilling, cutting or moving fragile asbestos-containing materials, it will become airborne and easily inhaled. If asbestos is not broken into smaller fibers and inhaled, it doesn’t pose a problem.

Related: The Ultimate Due Diligence Guide for Buy & Hold Properties

What can you do about it?

Get any materials you think are asbestos tested. Asbestos testing requires specialized equipment so you’ll have to send it to a lab. The average cost is somewhere between $50-$100 a sample.

If there is asbestos in the house, it’s best to hire a contractor licensed to remove asbestos. They have all of the correct equipment and can keep everyone protected. Lung cancer isn’t worth making a few extra bucks.

For more information, be sure to check out:

Have you had to deal with asbestos while rehabbing or flipping a house?

Let us know about your experience with a comment!

About Author

Brett Lee

Brett Lee is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Portland Oregon where he helps people achieve a better future so they can do the things that truly make them happy. Brett is also a buy-and-hold investor, property manager and investment advisor.

8 Comments

  1. Kimberly H.

    Actually, asbestos-related lung cancer is not the most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. From the link you shared it says, “Asbestos lung cancer is a rare type of lung cancer, which is the most common cause of cancer death in the United States”.

    Lung cancer is the most common cancer, not the rare asbestos lung cancer.

    • Jonah Cooper

      My grandfather passed away 2 years ago from asbestos related lung cancer, so this subject has become much higher on my radar than before. I went ahead a looked at a few articles on what might contain asbestos. I really liked this diagram/list: (http://www.nationaldryout.com/uploads/1/5/9/4/15942678/asbestos_building_large.jpg) As you can see, there’s 40 different potential threats listed which may contain the substance.

      I keep hearing/reading that unless the material is broken or disturbed then there’s nothing to worry about, but that’s pretty difficult when remodeling an older home. From this list/diagram above, you could end up with quite a large bill and delays in projects if you don’t know what’s what, since there are so many commonly demoed materials, (e.g. walls, paneling, floor/ceiling tiles, gaskets, pipe lining, etc).

      I agree with Darren and Monica, a follow up article with more details on best practices and higher risk materials would be a huge resource. From some of the research I’ve done, it really helps to A) Identify the year the home was built and dates any projects/improvements were done (that is to check if they fall in the 1950-80s), B) Have a GOOD home inspector come and point out potential asbestos products, C) have those potential products tested for $50-100 per sample. By the way, Asbestos.com has a lot of good information and even live chats with an advocate (usually a nurse) for questions.

    • Andrew Stack

      It’s very hard to tell without testing. I was looking at a property and the MLS sheet made no mention of it anywhere. I actually came across it when I was looking at the property tax coupons online and they listed the construction material as asbestos.

  2. Andrew Stack

    I know this is for rehabbers, but the article is somewhat misleading. The only reason to be concerned is if you’re actually working on asbestos materials or removing them. In asbestos/cement siding for example, if you don’t touch them, there is zero issue. If they get broken, you’ll need to have them removed/replaced very carefully, but otherwise it’s perfectly safe and inert unless disturbed. Also, that siding is extremely durable. Quite a double edged sword, but just wanted to point that out.

  3. Jennifer Andrews

    We recently purchased an older home and had professionals come and check for asbestos first. Thankfully there wasn’t any in that home, but I would rather be safe than sorry. There has been issues with asbestos in popcorn ceilings in the past but there was not problem during the removal. You just have to take some time out to make sure the home and your workers are safe.
    http://www.macbestos.com

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