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When to worry about meth

Landlords are being told they need to be careful what they believe when it comes to meth contamination of rental properties.

Wednesday, April 6th 2016, 10:42AM 6 Comments

by Miriam Bell

Meth contaminated properties have been generating sensational headlines of late and, for landlords, their spectre is a huge concern.

While the scale of the problem is unknown, those who end up owning a meth contaminated property face losses in several areas.

These include a drop in value and sales price for a property with a history of meth contamination, rental losses while the property is decontaminated, and, in extreme cases, the demolition of the property.

But among the horror stories, there is some misinformation circulating.

For example, there are widespread concerns the new health and safety legislation means landlords will need to do meth tests between tenants – or they could be accused of renting an unsafe property.

But a WorkSafe NZ spokesperson said that, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, a landlord would not be expected to test for meth presence in a rental property as a matter of course.

She said if a landlord or property manager believes tenants are using or manufacturing meth in a rental property it has nothing to do with the new health and safety legislation, but they should inform the police.

“If a landlord or property manager believes an untenanted property has been used for meth usage or manufacturing, they should arrange for it to be tested and cleaned up to ensure it is fit for residence before it is re-let.”

In either situation, a landlord or property manager should not allow their staff to enter a property if they believe it has been used for meth manufacturing, rather experts should be employed to deal with the property, she said.

For concerned landlords it pays to remember that levels of meth contamination can vary widely, depending on whether there has been meth manufacturing or meth usage on a property.

A property used for meth manufacturing will present a dangerous level of contamination.

But in a property where meth usage alone has occurred there will be significantly lower levels of contamination.

National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep told the Science Media Centre that the two situations pose separate issues.

He said properties where past tenants had used meth might have some evidence of low concentrations on surfaces, but minimal risks of toxicity.

“The risks would be similar for people who live in a house that had previous dwellers who smoked cigarettes or marijuana.

“They will have exposure to these drugs, but the concentrations will not sufficiently high enough to cause either psychoactive or toxic effects to people who may have had inadvertent, and brief, dermal contact with these surfaces.”

Low levels of contamination can still show up on a meth test – and this leaves many landlords wondering what to do.

The Ministry of Health guidelines on meth contamination, which are available here, provide guidance on what levels necessitate decontamination.

However, part of the problem is that many landlords are uncertain of what is required of them generally, NZ Property Investor Federation executive officer Andrew King said.

“Those offering testing and clean up services are very vocal in their marketing. But there’s an element of setting up a new industry - which works well for consultants but not necessarily for landlords.”

In his view, where there are well-founded concerns that a property has been meth contaminated, testing is always a good idea.

But if a test detects very low levels indicating usage alone, the same decontamination response as would be required in a manufacturing situation is unlikely to be necessary, King said.

“There is a bit of a knee-jerk media scare going on. If people respond to it wholesale, it will lead to increased costs for landlords and those costs will then get passed on to tenants.”

Some clarification, from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, of what landlords should do when it comes to meth and rental properties would be useful, he added.

Industry experts recommend that landlords take a proactive approach to managing the risks of meth.

This includes regular testing and inspections, installation of a meth minder alarm system, and getting appropriate insurance cover.

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Comments from our readers

On 7 April 2016 at 6:10 pm Champion1 said:
It's not the health and safety issue that is important in terms of testing between tenancies - it's that the Tenancy Tribunal Adjudicators are now saying unless a Landlord can prove their property was clear of Meth prior to starting the tenancy then good luck trying to prove the tenant is responsible.
On 11 April 2016 at 9:39 pm Property Leader said:
The Tenancy Tribunal order of Visagie vs Harper Property Management 15/06955/MK needs to be read dated 16 March 2016. The owner was fined $7500 for having P contamination which he did not know about. The Adjudicator said any landlord who rents his premises without having it tested for P contamination at the commencement of the tenancy is taking on a large risk in a number of respects.
On 15 April 2016 at 3:53 pm Gutz said:
I just read your article on meth houses I have just had experience with a meth house that I purchased The tenant had been there 17 years prior to me purchasing and was in fact a drug and councillor for this reason I did not get a test prior to purchase It transpired that she had let her house be used by undesirables while she had been at work
When I sold the property (fully renovated) the purchaser asked for a test which I was happy with but the result horrified me The e mail from their tester stated that the levels were high(around the limit of 0.5) and not to do open homes and stay out of the property. This shocked me and I was sure that this was wrong as the property when purchased was clean and tidy with no smell or indication of an P usage. So I commissioned my own more extensive test at a cost of $1400 This test came back to me with 10 swabs being taken in the property with a reading 0.02 through most of the house WHICH IS IS 25X UNDER THE LIMIT As you can imagine I was a bit confused with the massive gap As both these tests had been conducted on the same surfaces, there had been no one in the house between the test. I think that this is a serious issue because as consumers we are commissioning these companies to do what in the case of a dispute may have to stand up in court So I would like an explanation from one or both as to how these results could be so diverse(I contacted the first tester their reply was the 2nd tester had done it wrong). It begs the question that a high reading possibly creates work for subsequent companies to come and charge for the striping out of these properties. I am not saying this is the case but for two companies to get such different results (and I believe the same lab did tests) I think some answers or some sort of standards are required
To ad fuel to this fire I also viewed a property recently which showed all the signs of being infected with P Having a very strong ammonia smell through the house and staining all over the interior walls. The vendor had a test done on this property and I was sent results That house also came back at .02 which was the same as my property yet mine was clean and tidy with no smell This property was unliveable so again it begs the question of conformity. If we as clients cannot trust these test then the amount of weight that has been put in them due to the hysteria that has been caused due to the media attention given to this problem perhaps has to be put into perspective. And if companies are using this hysteria to make money without worrying about accuracy then perhaps some accountability needs to be bought against those who are not prepared to back their findings should they be found to be inaccurate
On 1 June 2016 at 11:41 pm Superdad said:
I actually expect in a few years time to see news headline reads “ P testing company scammed hundreds of property owners …now prosecuted….”

Myth about Meth

In most cases people shouldn't be worry sick unless they are sure that the house was used as a p-lab (manufacturing). Some of these so call meth testing companies/experts are here to make the problem bigger than they really are to scare people because they can make big money from “cleaning” the house.

Few things to consider here.

• Some everyday household cleaning products that you use to wipe around your home can potentially return a positive “p” test result. So can some synthetic fertiliser in your garage, ammonia products that you use for cleaning….etc

• Make sure the testing sample they take from your property is the same sample that the testing lab receives. How can you be sure?

• Meth dissolve in water, it washes away even if you got it on your cloth.

• P can be everywhere, like cigarettes. We really should be testing all the used cars? That beautiful car you just bought from the car dealer yesterday, have you been feeling sick driving that car, does the car smell?! How about that used bed/furniture you’ve just purchased off trademe last week? You should test those too!

• Should we start testing all Hotel/Motel/Holiday accommodations after each stay? Peoples been partying and smoking p all night before you and your family checks in the next day! Better sleep in the car, oh wait the car is contaminated too!

• There is a huge difference between recreational p use and p manufacturing in a property.

• (true story) Contractor smokes P while painting the interior of a new house and the house is contaminated because “P” was detected on the walls and ceilings? You joking! Its a brand new house in a new high-end subdivision! Stay away because you’ll get sick! The house requires a clean!

If you were to run a “Meth testing/cleaning” company, would you be able to honestly say to people, yes the house is now cleaned and safe to live in? I know I wouldn’t, unless I know there has never been a problem in the first place!

Stop over exaggerating the issue, calm down and use common sense. Try to avoid the scam artists.
On 24 August 2016 at 7:19 pm badjelli said:
I've just found out my rental has tested postive for P - only slightly above the MoH 'suggested guideline' for safe levels. I'm so confused because everywhere I have looked/read mentions 'guidelines' so I interpret that as there is no set law as to what is acceptable or not in a property (let alone a used car as mentioned by Superdad. And I have also read that this test result (which is at user level not lab level) will be added to the property LIM and never removed! How can this be done if there is no set in concrete law as to the safe and acceptable levels? It is so disheartening. You try to do everything right: invest for the future, have the right insurance cover, do the right checks with prospective tenants, ensure the house has smoke alarms (hell, I even provide batteries twice a year!), ensure the house is adequately insulated, fix anything in a timely manner, visit at least every 12 weeks for an inspection to keep the insurance cover in check (yet to find out if AON are going to play ball), and you still get p**ped on. At this stage I am going for a 2nd test with another company to see what that shows.
Any suggestions from other landlords who have also been in this situation would be greatly appreciated.
On 22 May 2018 at 10:04 am frank said:
Hi there,
We currently live in Brisbane but have three rental properties in NZ that are managed by property managers. Couple months ago new tenants have moved in one of the Auckland properties and now they are sending emails to the property management claiming that they had some weird stomach problems and were hospitalised several times in short period of time. This is all based on their testimony and so far we have not seen any evidence of their claimed illness. The property manager is now pressuring us to do the meth test as if in his words tenants obtain their own test and reading positive for meth we could be found liable. The same management company has been managing this property for last two years and there was nothing in their routine inspection or other communication suggesting of meth being cooked or used on the property by previous tenants but the manager say "but they can not rule it out completely"
I find this to be such grey area and money grabbing enterprise for many and fully agree with the subscriber badjelli how difficult it is for landlords trying to do the right thing and literally please their tenants with their paranoid tendencies. I am exceptionally angry that there is no law on these matters or if there is one that I am not aware of please,please point me in right direction. It sounds to me that tenant can express whatever they like related to meth and the landlords can find themselves in sticky situation draining their hard made money.
This looks like a page from scam artist's book of putting hair in their food in restaurants so they don't have to pay for a meal or in this case probably to get out of few weeks rent by claiming that property was not safe or some other BS.
I would appreciate any comment from other landlords of having their property 'Accused' of being unsafe and how they navigated this uncharted territory.

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