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Keeping A Level Head On Meth Risk

The panic has subsided and the dodgy operators have disappeared, but landlords still need to stay sharp, writes Joanna Mathers.

By: Joanna Mathers

31 May 2022

During the early to mid-2010s, methamphetamine contamination was considered one of the most pressing issues facing landlords. In fact, prior to 2018, it often topped New Zealand Property Investor magazine surveys as the number one issue of concern.

The moral panic sweeping the nation led to many evictions, and thousands were spent stripping and cleaning “contaminated” homes. An unregulated industry sprung up around this panic, and unwitting landlords, desperate to keep their homes clean and their tenants safe, forked out their hard-earned cash to have their homes gutted.

But, in 2018, things changed. Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, was tasked with undertaking a science-based investigation of the dangers of meth exposure in residential housing. The report found no evidence of adverse effects caused by third-hand exposure to smoked meth residue. Cook houses were problematic, but very rare, and the risks caused to human health were primarily due to toxins created in the cooking process.

Gluckman’s report was a game changer. The panic subsided and the dodgy operators who had been cashing in on the scare dissipated. But meth hasn’t gone away – in fact recent data from police wastewater analysis revealed a huge uptick in use over lockdown last year, and running into 2022.

So where do landlords stand now with regard to methamphetamine contamination and remediation? And is it still worth paying for meth tests?

Official Guidelines

Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has revealed to New Zealand Property Investor magazine that there are no legally binding guidelines around levels of meth residue found in rental homes.

However, there is currently work being undertaken by HUD to develop regulations for the RTA around the management of meth contamination in residential rental properties.

In the absence of legally binding rules, the Tenancy Tribunal determines applications on the circumstances of the individual case, taking into account all evidence put before it (including the nature and extent of methamphetamine residue and other relevant matters) to make a decision, and determine appropriate remedies

Prior to the Gluckman report, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) concluded that 2 μg/100 cm2 was an appropriate clean-up guideline for methamphetamine-contaminated houses, not known to be former meth labs. In June 2017 a new standard of 1.5 μg/100cm2 was selected as the cleanup level in the New Zealand Standard on the testing and decontamination of methamphetamine-contaminated properties.

But while the Gluckman report concluded this level was not a useful baseline for “safe” levels of meth residue, 1.5 μg/100 cm2 is still used as the baseline when testing, and as the desired upper level post decontamination.

Testing Times

Tasman Compliance Group (TCG) was set up post-Gluckman to provide meth testing services to real estate companies, insurance providers, and property managers. Managing director Nikolas Gladiadis explains that the meth testing industry is now primarily driven by insurance companies, either as a prerequisite for acceptance of a policy or for evidence of meth contamination during a claims process.

Gladiadis says each insurer has different levels of meth they consider safe, although Insurance Council New Zealand data states 1.5 μg/100cm2 is still an acceptable level.

“Insurance companies usually compensate for [readings over this level],” he says. “But only if it is part of regular ‘in and out’ testing [before and after tenancies]. And many property managers won’t take on a property if the landlord doesn’t adhere to this.”

‘This is a great detterent against the tenant smoking meth in the home: if a subsequent test shows meth use, there is clear evidence that the tenant is responsible’ Nikolas Gladiadis

Although the “P” panic has subsided post-Gluckman, it still makes sense for landlords to test their properties regularly.

Ryan Sweeney, a senior residential property manager at Bayleys Takapuna, says although there is no obligation for landlords to test for meth (unless required by their insurers), he will not take on a client who refuses to do so. There are several reasons for this.

“When a meth test is done, and it comes back clear, I provide a copy of the report to both the landlord and the tenant. This is a great deterrent against the tenant smoking meth in the home: if a subsequent test shows meth use, there is clear evidence that the tenant is responsible.”

Such tests provide useful evidence if meth use occurs in the home and the case is taken to the Tenancy Tribunal.

Another reason he feels this is important is that landlords are required to provide a home that is safe and habitable. “If a property has a high level of meth contamination, which is found after a tenant asks for a test, the landlord may have to pay back all the tenant’s rent if it’s taken to the Tenancy Tribunal.”


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