In the state of Nevada, renters of both apartments and/or homes need to be aware of their legal rights pertaining to asbestos. The dangerous health effects of asbestos exposure have long been documented, and several national, state, and local ordinances can help tenants to avoid asbestos and recover damages from asbestos-related illnesses. Tenant laws can sometimes be difficult to navigate, and health effects from asbestos, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, are often not detected until years after exposure. Before delving into the laws about asbestos, including rental lease laws, understanding what asbestos is, and why it’s so detrimental to human health should be explained first.
What is asbestos? Asbestos is a mineral made of long strings of fibrous crystals. Asbestos has been used in building construction materials for decades, its popularity owing to the mineral’s tensile strength, ability to absorb sound, and fire-resistant properties. For these reasons asbestos material was often used for insulation in walls, heating ducts, and electrical wiring. Unfortunately, the very fiber strings that make asbestos an effective construction material also make it dangerous for humans and animals.
When asbestos breaks down, flakes off, or is physically agitated, its fibers can dislodge and become airborne. Once in the air, the fibers are inhaled. Asbestos clings to a person’s lung tissue, disrupting the normal mitosis of the cell cycle. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can result in lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Life expectancy is short for people suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Nevada residents may be especially susceptible to asbestos exposure, since asbestos was a common building material prior to 1981. Many Nevada cities surged in population in the mid-20th century, around the 1950s and ‘60s, when gambling and tourist-centered cities like Las Vegas, Henderson, and Reno exploded in population. Improvements in air conditioning technology, the growth of the national highway system, and tempting property prices spurred the construction of residential buildings. Many of these pre-1981, asbestos-laden structures remain in Nevada. Asbestos can be found in some popcorn ceilings, and asbestos in tile is also common. Because of its remoteness, the Silver State is also home to numerous military structures, including Nellis, Fallon, and Tonopah Air Force bases, as well as military testing sites like the legendary Area 51. This is important to Nevada residents because military buildings oftentimes contain high levels of asbestos. Nowadays, asbestos attorneys focusing on current and former military personnel are prevalent in Nevada and across the United States.
People looking for legal aid in asbestos cases have many options. Lawsuits seeking compensation for damages from asbestos-related illnesses are commonplace. However, most of the national discussion about asbestos relates to cases where a victim of asbestos is seeking a large cash settlement for damages as a result of years of past exposure. After learning that they have cancer of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos, asbestos victims will receive legal advice and take their case to court, suing construction companies, former employers, and other entities that knowingly put them in harm’s way.
Clearly it’s best to avoid asbestos before it causes long-term damage to your respiratory system. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure that your place of residence is free from asbestos. That said, what are the laws regarding residential lease agreements as they pertain to asbestos? Do renters have any tenancy rights that protect them against exposure to asbestos tiles? Do landlords need to make potential renters aware of asbestos in their buildings in the rental agreement? Nevada apartment, home, and trailer renters should be aware of the basic national laws regarding the habitability of a rental property. First and foremost, landlords are required to provide habitable living conditions in their rental units. Exposed asbestos can render a building uninhabitable, based on the potential health problems that result from asbestos exposure. But how can you tell if there are asbestos fibers in your home?
The only way to know for sure if asbestos is present in the air is to get a professional indoor air quality technician to perform asbestos testing on your property. Testing for asbestos is the first step you can take to insure that you and and your family are safe in your rental property. If asbestos is found to be present in the air of your home, you should begin the asbestos removal process. Licensed, certified professionals can be hired for the testing of asbestos, the removal of asbestos, and the disposal of asbestos. They will have the right tools and protective equipment to make certain there is no further damage to the air quality of your home. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states, “have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by asbestos professionals.”
In most cases, if the asbestos is not airborne, the landlord is not required to pay for asbestos abatement, asbestos removal, or to arrange for the proper containment of the asbestos. However, failing to remove or contain any and all asbestos is a tremendous risk for a landlord. If the asbestos fibers do become airborne—from the breakdown of the material over time or some disturbance to the area—inhabitants can become sick, the building can become instantly uninhabitable, and the laws regarding habitable living conditions apply. Landlords open themselves up to costly lawsuits or broken tenancy agreements when they fail to remove or contain asbestos.
According to the 6th edition of Nolo’s tenant guidebook Renter’s Rights: The Basics, “Under regulations imposed by the US Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), owners of buildings constructed before 1981 must install warning labels, train staff, and notify people who work in areas that might contain asbestos.” This pertains to residential buildings as well as workplaces.
If you live in a building that was built before 1981, it is likely that asbestos is present and this information must be disclosed to you by your landlord. Typically a landlord will put this notice in the lease agreement. As with any legal contract, make sure you read and fully understand your lease agreement. Landlords can protect themselves from some asbestos lawsuits if they make it known in writing that there is asbestos on the property.
Of course, when it comes to knowing whether or not asbestos is present, renters can sometimes find themselves in a confusing situation. Tenants can enter lease arrangements without thinking about asbestos and other hazards. What if you don’t know when the building was constructed, but think that it might have been build prior to 1981? What if the building was constructed after 1981, but you have reason to suspect that there is still asbestos on the property? What if you find a fibrous material that is incasing water pipes—is it asbestos, or something else? What if you ask the landlord and he says he doesn’t know whether there is or is not asbestos in the building?
You should always remember that your health and safety is the number one priority—according to common sense and the law. If in doubt, get a certified technician to test for asbestos. Hire asbestos testing professionals to make certain that there are not dangerous levels of asbestos in the air. If the results come back and there is no asbestos, you’ll have some peace of mind knowing you’re safe. If a professional tests for asbestos and there is an unhealthy level in the air, you can claim the area as uninhabitable. Also, remember that if a landlord has been given any indication about the presence of asbestos on the property, either from past contract work or testing, he has to disclose this information to you.
Currently, Nevada does not have asbestos laws for tenants that differ from the national renter’s laws. Although this is unfortunate, renters in Nevada can take advantage of two of the most basic renter’s rights laws that apply across the board—their right to a habitable living area, and their right to know about existing asbestos. In particular counties or cities in Nevada specific asbestos laws may exist, so make sure to check your local laws for any regulations about asbestos in residential buildings.
As the general public becomes more aware about the potentially fatal implications of asbestos illnesses, demand for substantial regulations will grow. Until then, renters have few resources at hand to insure their health and safety. Testing asbestos levels through a certified company is the most important first step in defending against disease and establishing an advantage in any future legal disputes.