Owning rental property carries with it responsibility. Landlords who neglect those responsibilities, particularly when it comes to exposing tenants to asbestos, can wind up paying a high price.
Recently, the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District settled a lawsuit against a large real estate and management corporation for $125,000. The corporation operated three apartment complexes in San Jose, San Mateo and San Francisco that were known to contain asbestos. According to the lawsuit, the company, which was not named in the news release but was described as “one of the nation’s largest real estate investment trusts”, allegedly used uncertified asbestos abatement contractors for the job as well as “in-house maintenance staff” who were neither trained nor certified in proper asbestos abatement techniques. It was further alleged that these workers failed to take any precautions to protect tenants and the public from the release of asbestos fibers.
The defendant has since hired a qualified asbestos abatement company to do any future renovations. This is not the first time District officials have had to bring action against careless property owners. In 2006, a suit was filed against an apartment manager in Concord, California, who had allegedly ordered a maintenance worker to scrape off asbestos containing material (ACM) from building surfaces, despite the worker’s protests that it was a hazardous job that needed to be handled by trained personnel. The Concord suit was settled for $300,000. Jack Broadbent, Executive Officer for the District, said: “Landlords need to know that if they have asbestos in their buildings, they must follow the rules that are in place to ensure the protection of public health. If they don’t, they are going to have to pay a penalty.” District Counsel Brian Bunger agreed: “The Air District will not tolerate landlords or property managers who do not comply with our asbestos-handling regulations. We will make every effort to catch those who violate the regulations, and when we do, we will take them to court if need be to collect significant penalties for the violations.”