Meth assumptions shaken by new report

Friday 28 October 2016

New recommendations on safe meth levels will impact on the habitability levels landlords need to consider in contamination situations, a tenancy expert says.

By Miriam Bell

A new Ministry of Health funded report recommends that different levels should be used to assess properties where meth has been used and properties where the drug has been manufactured.

The current Ministry guidelines set the meth contamination limit at 0.5 micrograms per 100cm2.

This limit has come under increasing fire as it is supposed to be applied in situations where meth has been manufactured in a property rather than where it has been used recreationally.

In fact, the contamination limit should be three to four times higher in cases of recreational meth use, according to the new report.

It recommends that in properties where meth has only been used there should be a limit of 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 in carpeted properties and 2.0 micrograms per 100cm2 in uncarpeted properties.

But in properties where meth has been manufactured the 0.5 limit should remain.

The different contamination limits reflect the different levels of health risk.

While living in a meth lab environment has serious health risks, living in properties where there has only been meth use means there is a much reduced risk of toxicity.

Among landlords, confusion has been rife over the levels at which meth traces become a health hazard.

The situation has been made worse by a proliferation of meth testing and remediation companies – some of whom take advantage of worried landlords who are unsure what test results mean or require director Scotney Williams said the proposed new levels would not mean a huge change for landlords when it came to dealing with meth contamination situations.

But they would make a difference in terms of the habitability levels landlords have to consider in such situations.

The proposed new levels mean tenants could consent to live in a property with a reading of up to 1.5, which is a level much higher than it is at the moment, he said.

“Currently, the Tenancy Tribunal says there is an unhabitability problem if there is a meth reading over 0.5. And, if you are under it, there is still an expectation of compensation if a property is not classed as reasonably clean and tidy.”

This means that a change from 0.5 to 1.5 will make it easier for landlords as far as the cut-off point as far as unhabitability goes, Williams said.

“If they were to get a level of 0.8, they would still have to decide if they wanted to clean it up or not, but a tenant could choose to stay in the property if it had a meth reading of 0.8 if they wanted to.

“The degree of remediation in such cases would be a judgement call on the part of the landlord, but they might be less such expenditure as a tenant could consent to live in a property if the reading was below 1.5.”

But Williams said if the proposed recommendations are adopted his advice to landlords would remain the same: test before and after tenancies and clean to the level required.

The new recommendations will be considered by the Standards New Zealand appointed committee which is developing a new meth testing and remediation standard.

The draft of the standard will be released for public consultation in November and the finalised standard is expected to be ready in early 2017.

However, the new recommendations have already led to controversy for Housing New Zealand.

The organisation now stands accused of unfairly evicting tenants for meth contamination – despite being warned it was misusing the existing guidelines to do so. 

Housing New Zealand CEO Andrew McKenzie said the new recommendations provide a clearer distinction between meth use and meth lab contamination.

"For some time, there has only been one set of guidelines for property owners to use to determine the health and safety of homes that may be meth contaminated. We applied those guidelines as the only guidelines available.

"We believe the recommended guidelines will enable us to get homes back into the letting pool faster, as well as save costs around testing and decontamination.”

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