Proceed with caution on meth

Thursday 31 May 2018

Landlords should continue to tread carefully when it comes to the spectre of meth contamination – despite the release of the game-changing Gluckman report.

By Miriam Bell

Fear of meth contamination has had New Zealand firmly in its grip in recent years and that’s led to the rise of the meth testing and cleaning industry which has cost many landlords dearly.

So the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman’s, report into meth contamination houses, which found there are no health risks from third-hand exposure to meth, has had a bombshell effect.

Housing NZ announced it was changing its approach to the testing and decontaminating of its properties, while the NZ Property Investors Federation welcomed the report but noted the high costs involved for many to date.

Minister of Housing Phil Twyford says the report provides a scientific basis for acceptable levels of meth in the New Zealand context and that, along with the 2017 meth standard, it will contribute to any new regulations made under the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2).

That Bill will soon have its second reading in Parliament and Twyford expects there will be a public consultation document on meth regulations ready later this year.

But it is important for landlords to realise that, while change may be in the air, the levels set by the NZS 8510: 2017 standard remain in place.

Sir Peter’s report might call for a new meth testing regime, with higher levels properly based on risk, and with tighter regulations for the testing industry - but no such regime exists yet.

Auckland Property Investors Association vice-president Peter Lewis says landlords should continue to be careful and take sensible precautions with their rental properties.

The report shows a sea-change in views on meth contamination and is likely to be a game-changer for public perceptions of the issue, but it remains to be seen what will happen in real terms, he says.

“In my view, the real test will be how the Tenancy Tribunal deals with the report. There are likely to be some meth contamination cases coming up soon and how the adjudicators respond to them now will set the bar on the issue going forward.”

Existing insurance requirements around meth and rental properties also need to be taken into account and that means testing at the beginning and end of tenancies is still advisable, he says.

“The report isn’t going to change anything in the short term, especially as many people will remain wary of potential meth contamination in residential properties.

“I think landlords are best to tread softly and see what happens over the next year in terms of Government actions and Tenancy Tribunal decisions and what guidance they provide.”

Lewis says he won’t be changing his own behaviour when it comes to protecting against meth contamination and will continue to do the tests and checks that he has been doing.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Council of NZ is calling for the Government to move quickly to review the situation regarding meth contamination following Sir Peter's report.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton says it is refreshing to see well-informed objective research that shines a light on a problem which has caused confusion and uncertainty for tenants, landlords and insurers.

"The NZS 8510: 2017 standard was a good step forward for raising levels and creating a separation between the testers and the clean-up companies to resolve conflicts, but it is clear more is needed to be done to improve the analysis of health implications.”

It will be important that there is a single level that applies across all regulation including the update of the existing standard, he says.

Real Estate Authority (REA) chief executive Kevin Lampen-Smith says the report should help reduce the stress involved in buying property.

But prospective buyers who are worried about meth contamination should ask questions, read the reports and seek legal advice before signing a sale and purchase agreement.

“If you are concerned about the potential for meth contamination because you suspect the property was used as a meth lab, ask your lawyer to include a satisfactory meth test as a condition of your offer.”

The REA supports the need for an immediate review of the standard and is preparing more detailed guidance for the industry about the disclosure of meth contamination, he adds.

Standards New Zealand manager Carmen Mak has said they are open to updating standards and are happy to engage with people seeking changes to the NZS 8510: 2017 standard.

Read more:

Meth relief for landlords 

Meth contamination demystified 

New meth decontamination levels revealed 

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