Old houses have asbestos

Asbestos in old buildings
How dangerous is asbestos and who is liable?

Whether as a facade cladding, roof covering, hidden in protective plates of electrical installations or as a means for pipe insulation - especially in the 1950s and 60s, high proportions of toxic asbestos were used.

What exactly is asbestos?

The term asbestos includes mineral fibers that occur as deposits in certain rocks. Because of its unique sound, heat and moisture protection properties, asbestos was used in industry and construction in particular in the mid-1990s.

Today is between weakly bound and firmly bound asbestos differentiated. Weakly bound asbestos is particularly hazardous to health, as the dangerous fibers are released when they are touched or vibrated and can thus get into the room air.

Once the fibers are in the lungs and inhaled, they can hardly be broken down by the human organism.

Asbestos: only dangerous when processed

Residents of a property containing asbestos are not directly at risk from the substance. However, if the construction products concerned are processed improperly or even removed, the lightly bound asbestos in particular can be quickly loosened and thus become a hazard. That is why it is clearly regulated by law when companies specializing in asbestos are to be called in for renovations.

Basically, as long as the asbestos-containing products, such as old floor coverings, are intact, they are also harmless to health. However, if these become cracked and porous or even peel off from the sub-floor, a harmful amount of asbestos fibers can escape. Then you have to act quickly.

Real Estate Owners Responsibility

Owners of asbestos-containing properties are not always obliged to remove the built-up asbestos. At least as long as the health of the residents is not endangered by the asbestos fibers. However, if the property owner fails to carry out a renovation despite a proven health risk, he faces criminal penalties.

Liability of the owner

Tenants must be protected from damage and dangers in the property. Therefore, the property owner can be required to take any necessary measures and compensate for damage caused to the property due to materials containing asbestos.

If the property owner is not informed whether parts of the property contain asbestos-containing materials, he should check this at the latest before a renovation. Because if the asbestos is completely removed as part of a comprehensive restoration, there is no risk of damage to health and there is also no risk of depreciation from existing asbestos. In general, if the building was built before 1990, built-in asbestos is almost always to be expected.

Rental of asbestos-containing living spaces

Landlords must expect legal consequences and a reduction in the value of their property if asbestos has been detected in the living space. The German Tenants' Association has compiled the following cases:

Floor tiles
Cracked, asbestos-containing floor tiles are a defect in the rental property and entitle you to a 10 percent rent reduction. In this case, the tiles must be exchanged and replaced immediately. (Regional Court Berlin 65 S 419/10)

If partition walls cannot be processed because they contain asbestos fibers, there is a defect that the landlord must remedy as soon as possible. (Regional Court Berlin 63 S 42/10)

Backup stoves
Tenants who have a night storage heater built in 1977 or earlier in their apartment should be clairaudient. Because these devices can contain asbestos. However, they do not have to be taken out of service until 2019 (according to EnEV 2009). As the Berlin Regional Court ruled (67 S 131/97), the landlord is obliged to replace asbestos-containing night storage heaters if a concentration of more than 400 fibers per cubic meter of room air is proven.

The landlord is liable for all damage resulting from incorrect handling and processing of vinyl asbestos panels. He is also liable for breaches of duty by the craftsmen he has engaged. (Regional Court Berlin 65 S 200/12)

Limits for asbestos

There are no binding limit values ​​for asbestos for living spaces. However, the Federal Office of Public Health recommends that loads of more than 400 respirable asbestos fibers per cubic meter of air are not tolerated.

Anyone who suspects asbestos contamination in their own property should definitely contact the responsible building inspectorate.

A reliable answer can only be given by measuring the fiber concentration in the room air very quickly. This measurement has to be carried out over several days and is not always cheap. A cheaper option is the material or dust sample: It checks exactly whether the material concerned actually contains asbestos. Specialized measuring institutes can test material samples for their asbestos content and differentiate between firmly and weakly bound asbestos.

In case of doubt, real estate owners can even be obliged to have a possible risk clarified by means of an expert opinion. If the suspicion is confirmed, the owner must have the rented property professionally renovated.

Advice and help

The environmental authorities of the various federal states and municipalities provide useful information on how to deal with asbestos on their websites. You can find companies and professionals in the region in public lists. Stiftung Warentest also gives helpful tips. Consumer protection institutes also offer to test materials for their asbestos content.

To the topic Asbestos in the workplace and occupational diseases the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the German Statutory Accident Insurance provide relevant information.