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Meth contamination in houses: should we worry?

By : 2017-05-23

We’ve seen it in the headlines: meth damage makes homes uninhabitable. There’s no denying that methamphetamines (or ‘P’), is causing a lot of angst in the housing market. But is it justified?

The good news is that the number of meth users in New Zealand has dropped from 2.7 per cent of the population in 2003 to 0.8 per cent in 2016/17. But while the numbers are small, statistics show that 75 per cent of meth labs are found in rental properties. And with the obvious health risks, property damage, clean up costs and loss of property value to take into consideration, contamination from meth cooking is an issue residential investors should take seriously.

Important note: meth use and meth labs are not one in the same. While the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has reported that third-hand exposure to meth (e.g. leftover residue from users) does not cause harm—meth labs are a different story. If you suspect your home has been used to cook P, contact the police and have your property tested.

How to protect your property from meth contamination

If you own a rental property or are thinking about buying one, we recommend erring on the side of caution. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Here are a few ways to protect yourself:

  • Conduct meth tests before buying and in between tenants: renting a property contaminated with P can get you a nasty fine—even if you do so unknowingly.
  • Background check tenants: interview potential tenants and let them know you test for P, ask them to fill out a pre-tenancy application form, and check their references, credit history and if they’ve been through the Tenancy Tribunal.
  • Educate yourself: both on the signs of a meth lab and on its health effects. According to Housing New Zealand, signs of P use can include:
    • Stains on the walls and floors.
    • Chemical stains in the kitchen and laundry areas.
    • Oily residue on surfaces.
    • Chemical smells throughout the property.
    • Pill packets in the rubbish and drug paraphernalia, such as pipes or needles.
  • Regular inspections: meth cooking requires a lot of equipment, which means regular inspections can make it difficult to keep cooking concealed. If you’re you’re concerned about your property, schedule regular inspections (and bring a camera). Legally, you can inspect once every four weeks and only need to give tenants 48 hours notice.
  • Hire a property manager: not only do property managers help you to screen tenants and see to the daily running of your rental, but they also know what to look for when it comes to P contamination and what the laws are regarding it. Some property managers also test for meth as part of their final inspection before a tenant leaves.

How meth testing works

While you can buy self-testing kits for as little as $25, we recommend using a professional meth screening service that provides a proper lab analysis. Most companies offer two different kinds of meth testing. The first is a basic screening designed to give a yes/no answer to whether meth is present in the property. These usually range between $200 to $300 depending on the number of rooms they swab and how quickly you need the results.

The second test is a more intensive room by room analysis. Obviously, this will cost more (usually around $2,000), and is generally only used if meth has been detected in the initial first screen.

Important note: self-testing kits are designed to determine if a property is being used to cook meth, not if meth is being smoked in it.

What do I do if I get a positive reading?

If your property comes back positive on a meth test you should contact the police and your local council.

Who is responsible for the clean up?

In the unfortunate event that your property is identified as a meth lab, it’ll need to be cleaned up to meet New Zealand housing standards once more. According to Housing New Zealand, this can cost upwards of $10,000 and is the responsibility of the property owner.

Read more: Remediation Guidelines of Clandestine Meth Lab Sites

You cannot rent out the property again until all decontamination activities have been completed and your rental retested. If you sell the property, you must disclose that it tested positive for meth.

For more useful advice on managing the risks that come with renting out a  property, download our free guide, The Landlord’s Handbook.