When to worry about meth
Wednesday 6 April 2016
Landlords are being told they need to be careful what they believe when it comes to meth contamination of rental properties.
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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