Meth damage liability
Question from Judy updated on 7th January 2019:
We bought a property last year and the tenants stayed. This year we suspected meth use in the house and when tested it returned a positive reading. The tenant has left the property but is telling everyone that she is going to sue because the house was “hazardous to her health” and she will get a huge payout. We are told that there was no meth test before she moved in. Are we liable? We have since been told by multiple persons that the husband was a known meth smoker - although we have no proof of this.
Our expert Jennifer Sykes responded:
Under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords have an obligation to ensure that the premises are provided in a reasonably clean and tidy condition at the start of the tenancy. They must also comply with all of the applicable health, safety and building regulations that apply to the premises. This includes ensuring the premises are not contaminated by meth at a level which is a health hazard.
Landlords can also test for meth during tenancies (with the tenant’s permission) and between tenancies. Tenants may be liable for damage that they cause carelessly and will be liable for damage that they cause intentionally, or as a result of an imprisonable offence. This could include meth contamination if there is sufficient evidence that it was caused by the tenant.
If it is unclear when the damage to the property took place and an agreement cannot be reached, either party may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the matter resolved. It may be helpful for the landlord to discuss the matter with their insurance company in advance of making a claim. Where damage to the premises may have existed prior to purchasing the property, it is recommended that the new owner/landlord also seeks independent legal advice.
It is also worth noting that the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, recently released a report on meth contamination in residential properties. It recommends the introduction of much higher testing levels. But, to date, insurers are continuing to operate to the existing testing levels. Information on this report can be found here.
For more on the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants when it comes to methamphetamine, go to www.tenancy.govt.nz/starting-a-tenancy/renting-affected-properties/renting-a-property-affected-by-methamphetamine-p or subscribe to our e-newsletter Tenancy Matters here.The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.