Henry, Both Buyer and Seller in Cupertino, CA

Asbestos in the house, what to do when previous seller didn't disclose it?

Asked by Henry, Cupertino, CA Fri Mar 13, 2009

We found out during remodeling that there were asbestos tiles throughout the house that we bought around 2.5 years ago. It was an old house and we bought it as is. No disclosure mentioning the presence of asbestos tiles. It was covered with new carpet. I had a toddler that crawled and played around in the carpet and now I am concerned about her exposure to asbestos. The fact that the previous seller nor their agent disclose the presence of asbestos makes me upset. Have anybody deal with asbestos related issue before? Any advice about this? I appreciate your comments. Thank you

Help the community by answering this question:


Hi Henry and thanks for your question and post.

As the others have noted, we all agree with Bill (below). A seller or homeowner may only disclose those facts of which he/she is aware. The seller may certainly not have known about the asbestos, and the burden will fall to you, as the buyer, to prove that the seller either should have known or did know and purposely withheld that information. As the buyer, you purchased the home "as is" so, if a careful professional inspection of the home did not turn up this problem, it does seem probable that the seller did not know about this issue either.

While I understand how concerned you are about this situation, let me assure you--as someone who has worked with an industrial hygenist--that asbestos is present in many older homes and many environments even now without causing any health problems for those in the immediate vicinity. In fact, most us grew up spending days and days in schools literally built with products coated in asbestos and do not today suffer problems from the exposure. Asbestos becomes hazardous and dangerous when it is made "friable", meaning that it is in some way cracked, scratched or torn. This act releases small particles or "fibers" of asbestos into the air, which is then inhaled into the lungs. This is why people who removed asbestos, ground it, or scratched (such as automotive workers who ground brakes and industrial workers who removed and then replaced asbestos coatings) are often most afflicted by asbestosis--an asbestos related lung disease. In the case of the asbestos tile, the tile is actually coated with a hard surface, which prevents the release of asbestos fibers into the air. Removal of asbestos products should always be handled by professionals, who will ensure that any fibers released into the air are contained and immediately removed with air filtration systems. If you have any questions about the safety of your home, the handling of asbestos, or possible problems resulting from exposure, consult a trained environmental hygenist.

I hope this gives you some comfort. Good luck and happy home redecorating!

Grace Morioka, SRES, e-Pro
Area Pro Realty
1 vote Thank Flag Link Tue Apr 28, 2009

I am looking for a home and don't know what the asbestos tiles look like. Could you send some pictures?

0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Apr 30, 2009
Dear Henry,
Well the question is..did the owner know about the problem?
Years ago, asbestos was in many products, including brakes (in cars). To my knowledge, asbestos is only dangerous, when it is airborne.
If it were me, I would pay to have a specialist remove the tiles.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 20, 2009
As Bill so aptly points out, the sellers are only obligated to disclose the presence of asbestos, if they KNOW about it. It's very possible that the tiles have been there for 40 years, and nobody knew that they were of asbestos composition.

We see VAT (Vinyl Asbestos Tile) here in the Chicago area all the time. It was the tile of choice in the 50s, and 60s for basement tile. Inspectors in our area can identify them, without lab tests, basically on their design and size, because they've seen them so many times.

When we've discovered them, we've been told by our inspectors and asbestos removal companies, that unless the tiles are deteriorating... (cracked, and peeling)... they are of no significant danger. They recommend the best thing to do is cover them (such as with carpeting... or to put some other floor covering OVER them... such as new tile). My understanding is that the danger is from the dust and air-borne fibers that occur when the tiles begin decomposing. Tiles in good condition, represent no danger.

Of course, you want to make sure you minimize the contact your family might have with these tiles, by putting carpeting over them... but that should be adequate, as far as "my understanding".

You can have the tiles removed... but if you do so, you should hire an appropriate "asbestos remediation company" (you know.. the guys in the space-suits) to come and remove them professionally. But personally, if they're in good condition... I'd just cover them up.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sat Mar 14, 2009
Alan May, Real Estate Pro in Evanston, IL
We can understand being upset and are sorry for this.

Seller's disclosure information is only as good at the owner's knowlege of the property. The fact that you lived in the home for 2.5 years without knowing the tiles were asbestos is a reminder that the previous owners, even if they installed them, may not have known.

Our advice is if you feel strongly enough about this consult an attorney for their advice.

Good luck
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sat Mar 14, 2009
Henry, If the tiles were covered with carpet, there could be a chance that the previous owners had no idea the asbestos tiles were underneath the carpet. Perhaps when they purchased the home the carpeting had just been installed, and that was all they knew. You might be able to tell that by seeing how long they owned the home before you, and if you think the carpeting was about that age.

As far as health issues for your child- I recently had to renew my license for real estate, and there was quite a large section on Asbestors. The issue with Asbestos is primarily when whatever it is used in is broken up and there is the chance of you breathing in the fibers i.e- if you had a popcorn ceiling containing asbestos, and you scraped it down yourselves without draping off the other rooms with plastic, and it was floating throughout the home- or if you broke up the tile to remove it, without protection. They basically RECOMMENDED that the best thing to do with asbestos was to simply cover over it with new materials. So- it seems to me that there is not really a big health concern according to the things I read in our information.

Non-disclosure IF they knew it was there is another story, and I'm sure that it would depend on proving that- AND the exact timing of the purchase- 2 years may be within a timeframe of doing something about it. 5 years may not. You may have to ask a real estate attorney on that.

The first person to talk to would be the realtor you used in the transaction. Their company should have a real estate attorney on retainer who could answer your question regarding timing and if you have any recourse. The recourse then (if any) would probably be that they might have to help you with the cost of removing the asbestos- which could be costly- as you have to use certified technicians and have restrictions as to where and how it can be disposed of.

Go to your realtor, and have them answer some of your questions. That's why you pay us- so that down the road if there is a situation like this you can figure out the best solution!

Patti Phillips
"Advice You Need, Attention You Deserve"
Prudential CA Realty
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 13, 2009
Hi Henry,

Bob is right.

I am not a health expert by any means, but I have read that health experts indicate that it is prolonged exposure and exposure to asbestos dust or fibers that causes health issues.

I am pasting a Q&A from the National Cancer Institute on asbestos which you may find helpful

I have personally used a company for the removal of asbestos tiles in my home. The process was quick and easy. I too discovered asbestos tiles in a bedroom that was covered by carpet. Let me know if I can provide you with a referral so that you may obtain a quote.

Best of luck with the remodel.
Web Reference: http://www.AprilTavares.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 13, 2009
Before you go running to an attorney.....

Asbestos tiles are common in California, though seeing them in a single family home is a little odd unless it is a mature home.

I would advise you first go to an asbestos professional and seek advice on what sort of situation you have. In my experience a small number of floor tiles can be handled with little human hazard with the proper protrections and provided the tiles were secure before any demolition.
Web Reference: http://bob2sell.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 13, 2009
You probably should speak with an attorney.

I'm also surprised that this issue wasn't raised by your title company during closing. Most title agents will ask about asbestos--especially when closing on older homes.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 13, 2009
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