Moving forward on meth contamination

Thursday 23 February 2017

Shocking stories of meth contaminated rental properties continue to strike fear into the hearts of landlords but progress towards a better regulatory regime is being made.

By Miriam Bell

Meth contamination emerged as landlords’ number one fear in several different surveys last year and, with regular stories of rental properties damaged to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, it’s no wonder.

Veteran property investor Olly Newland even tells of one case where the investor's property had to be demolished and some remediation work on neighbouring properties had to be carried out.

Uncertainty over contamination levels, as well as testing and remediation practices and a lack of clear guidance has added to the worries of landlords.

However, regulatory progress towards addressing these concerns has been made.

This week public consultation on the draft of the new standard for the testing and remediation of meth contaminated properties closed.

The Standards NZ Committee responsible is set to meet next week to go over all the submissions and make alterations to the draft standard based on the feedback.

NZ Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King, who is on the committee, said the final version of the standard should be ready by the end of April.

At that point, the standard will be formalised and it is then up to local authorities to decide if they are going to put it into the relevant regulations for their region, he said.

“This means that rather than being nationally adopted, it does come down to each local authority. But, hopefully, they will all adopt it.”

Concerns that the current contamination levels have been set too low have been addressed in the draft standard.

King said there are two options for contamination levels in the draft – one is the Ministry of Health recommendation, the other is the committee’s recommendation.

“The committee will then decide which recommendation is to be adopted based on the public feedback received during the consultation period.”

Standards NZ have done a good, thorough job with the new standard especially as the area is complex and there are not a lot of hard facts, he added.

Alongside the new standard, National MP Andrew Bayly last year threw his Residential Tenancies (Methamphetamine) Bill into the private member’s ballot.

Bayly’s bill would give landlords more power to test and remediate their rental properties where there are dangerous levels of contamination.

Bayly said the Residential Tenancies Act is currently silent on the issue and his bill proposes changes to enable landlords to enter premises, with appropriate notice, for the purposes of testing for meth and other dangerous substances.

“Currently you need express permission from the tenant to do the testing, and if they don’t want you to come in, you have to go to the Tenancy Tribunal and get a binding ruling.

“That means you could get run into problems with a tenant who is actually doing meth in your property and won’t get out for testing.”

Bayly’s bill would also reinforce that tenants can be removed when a house is uninhabitable, while ensuring contaminated houses aren’t tenanted.

The bill is a balanced one which offers greater protection to both landlords and tenants, he said.

“It places an obligation on the landlord to provide rental accommodation free of meth contamination, but it also gives them more power to confront the problem in their properties.”

There isn’t an electorate MP who hasn’t been approached by constituents affected by meth contamination of a property – be they landlords or tenants, Bayly said.

“At the same time, my research indicates the number of affected houses is likely to be in the hundreds not the thousands so the scale of the problem is not on the level often suggested.

“But it is possible reports of affected properties are growing because people are more aware of the issue and are, therefore, getting properties tested more.”

He said that, for this reason, it is a problem that needs to be more effectively addressed – but without causing added panic by overstating it.

Bayly’s bill remains in the private members ballot, waiting to be drawn, but he said there is a chance it could be picked up as a government bill.

Read more:

Meth assumptions shaken by new report 

Meth threat still number one fear for landlords 

Draft meth standard released 

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