At Last There's Method In The Meth Madness
The mist surrounding meth contamination for years is finally clearing, writes David Faulkner.
31 January 2023
Towards the end of 2022, the government finally announced it would be entrenching into law what levels of methamphetamine contamination would be deemed unacceptable for human habitation.
Early indication is the government will adopt the Gluckman report recommendation of under 15 micrograms per 100cm2 before a property can be rented out. However, in a surprise announcement, you will not be able to end a tenancy unless the property is contaminated with levels more than 30 micrograms per 100cm2.
It will finally end the madness around meth contamination that has plagued our industry for the past few years. How did it come to this?
In March 2016 an adjudicator in Auckland ruled in favour of the tenant who wanted to be released from their fixed-term tenancy.
Unknown to this adjudicator, their decision would see innocent tenants have their tenancies terminated with only seven days notice. It would see landlords waste thousands of dollars on unnecessary testing and remediation work and would see millions of taxpayers’ dollars wasted on state housing stock through refurbishments.
It would also cause a giant political scandal, with Labour blaming the National Government for being asleep at the wheel as the scandal unravelled.
The tribunal case that set the wheels in motion involved a tenant who had moved into a property and decided there was a risk of methamphetamine contamination.
The tenant got the property tested using an indicative test. The results came back at 0.53 micrograms per 100cm2. The tenant moved out due to health fears, basing their findings on a Ministry of Health document outlining that the uninhabitable level was 0.5 micrograms. The document, written for laboratories, included no mention of levels caused by smoking. The adjudicator ignored or missed this vital point.
More intrusive testing was undertaken, getting individual readings for each room. The highest reading was in the kitchen at a level of 0.17 micrograms, way under the
0.5 micrograms level. In the adjudicator’s eyes any level of meth contamination was too high. They subsequently ruled in favour of the tenant, awarding costs and compensation as the landlord failed to provide a clean, safe and habitable dwelling. A rule of unforeseen consequences had just been applied.
In the following years the tribunal became overrun with cases, most coming from property managers or landlords seeking to terminate a tenancy. The Residential Tenancies Act states that if a property were so severely damaged that it was uninhabitable, the tenancy could be ended with as little as seven days’ notice. Hundreds of tenants found themselves being evicted and faced significant costs for cleaning and remediation work.
Concern grew, and the then National government decided it needed to act. New Zealand Standards formed a committee of experts to help establish standards and quality control around the testing and remediation industries. However, nearly half the people on the committee made money from testing. It was in their interest to keep the standards as low as possible and it was decided 1.5 micrograms would become the new standard.
Things changed further when Labour came to power. The government announced they had appointed chief science officer, Sir Peter Gluckman, to investigate this growing area of concern. Standards were reviewed to ascertain whether they were fit for purpose. This was the first time they undertook a purely scientific approach.
On May 28, 2018, Gluckman published his report. He claimed there was no need to carry out testing and that 15 micrograms should be the new level adopted. The problem was that it needed to be written into law.
We had insurance companies still referring to the 1.5 micrograms while the tribunal adopted the Gluckman report and started making rulings based on the 15 micrograms. Confusion reigned and 2019 saw the government pass a standard of contamination levels law. This was meant to have been set by the end of January 2021.
Nearly seven years from this case and almost two years from when the standards were meant to be set, we may finally be coming to the end of this whole sorry debacle.