Strong meth suspicions call for testing
Monday 21 October 2019
Panic around the meth contamination of rentals has diminished, but a Tenancy Tribunal decision reinforces that landlords still have an obligation to test properties when contamination is suspected.
By Miriam Bell
Not so long ago, the meth contamination of rental properties was one of landlords’ biggest worries.
But, following the release of Sir Peter Gluckman’s report into the health risks of meth contaminated properties last year, there has been a noticeable decline in the public airing of this particular concern.
That’s because Gluckman’s report recommended that a minimum standard of 15 micrograms per 100cm2 - as opposed to the NZS standard of 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 - be adopted when assessing meth contamination in rental properties.
And many organisations, including Housing New Zealand, the Real Estate Authority and the Tenancy Tribunal, have done so.
However, the recommendation does not mean that meth is no longer a problem and a recent Tribunal decision highlights that landlords should act quickly when there are strong grounds for suspecting contamination.
Auckland tenant Sandy Huang moved into a self-contained unit on a St Johns property in November 2018. The unit had previously been occupied by a family (Family X) who continued to live in the main house on the property until December 2018.
Huang told the Tribunal that shortly after she moved into the unit, a member of Family X offered her drugs. She told the landlord who acknowledged a member of Family X had admitted to her that he smoked “green smoke”.
When Family X moved out, the landlord had the main house – but not the tenant’s unit – tested for meth. Meth Testing New Zealand Limited completed a composite test which showed a level of 4.4 micrograms per 100cm2.
This exceeded the NZS standard of 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 and it was recommended that a detailed screening assessment should be undertaken.
However, on behalf of the landlord, Seaside Property Management’s Vicki Liu said they did not consider the property “contaminated” at this stage as it was below the 15 micrograms per 100cm2 recommended in the Gluckman report. For this reason, the tenant’s unit was not tested.
Early in 2019, a spate of break ins in the area left Huang feeling unsafe as a woman living on her own and she asked to end the fixed tenancy agreement early.
It was agreed that she could and new tenants were found for the unit. They asked for meth testing to be done and a composite test returned a reading of 28.23 micrograms per 100cm2.
A subsequent detailed screening test returned high readings in each room and left no doubt that the unit was contaminated. The new tenants’ tenancy was then terminated on the grounds that the property was uninhabitable and the property was decontaminated.
The new tenants’ provided Huang with a copy of the report and that prompted her to go to the Tribunal. She claimed the landlord breached its responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies Act as the unit was contaminated with meth throughout the tenancy.
The landlord argued that that it could not be responsible for the meth contamination as it was not aware of the contamination
But the Tribunal found the landlord’s attention was drawn to it as soon as Family X moved out and the upstairs property was tested and shown to have a level of contamination above 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 in composite testing in December 2018.
Adjudicator T Prowse said while there is some uncertainty about the level of contamination that is harmful to third parties, the NZS standard makes it clear that if a composite screening test returns a result over 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2, a detailed screening assessment should be undertaken.
Further, that was also the recommendation by Meth Testing New Zealand Limited, Prowse said.
“Once those results were known the landlord had an obligation to test Ms Huang’s property. The upstairs tenants had previously resided in the downstairs unit, and the unit is attached to areas that were included in the composite testing, such as the garage.”
The Tribunal was satisfied that the property was contaminated with meth throughout the tenancy, that Huang did not cause the contamination, and that Huang was left stressed and anxious thinking about the exposure she had to the contamination.
Prowse said the Tribunal has previously held that if a property is contaminated with meth, then the landlord has breached their obligations.
This led to Huang being awarded compensation of $1,805 which included nominal damage of $900 to reflect the infringement of her legal rights to live in a property free from contamination.
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