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Tenants win $7,500 from landlord for P contamination

A landlord who unwittingly bought a rental property contaminated with Met has had to refund the tenants the rent they had paid during the four months they lived in the property and cove the cost of decontaminating some of their belongings.

The Tenancy Tribunal adjudicator acknowledged that the owner and their property manager did not know about the P contamination. The adjudicator issued a general warning to all landlords in his ruling, saying "The scourge of methamphetamine manufacture and use that is affecting many lives and communities throughout New Zealand has been well publicised by the media throughout 2015 and 2016. Any landlord who, in 2015 or 2016, rents out his or her premises without having it tested for methamphetamine contamination at the commencement of the tenancy is taking on a large risk in a number of respects."

Contamination of rental properties can occur through producing (cooking) P and through smoking P. Cooking causes the greatest level of contamination, but affects relatively few rental properties. Smoking P in rentals is more widespread, but does not contaminate the property as much and is harder to detect.

The general public are forming their opinions on P from the media, who appear to be sourcing information from drug detection and cleaning companies who have a conflict of interest in providing accurate and informed information.

The level of risk needs to be better quantified. Dr Nick Kim, senior lecturer in applied environmental chemistry at Massey University's School of Public Health says that the risk of health problems from living in a property where meth has been smoked is low. Health risks are from the use of chemicals in the manufacture of Meth rather than residual meth from smoking. He says that the current guidelines use the most conservative measures. (You can hear a very interesting Radio NZ interview with Dr Kim here. The Interview starts at 10min 54sec and the subject starts 7min 40sec in).

Ministry of Health guidelines for safe levels of P in a property is 0.5 micrograms per 100cm2. This is considered very conservative, with some countries having higher levels. California has increased its minimum allowable level to 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2.

Cleaning contaminated sites requires specialist knowledge and expertise. Consequently the cost of remediating a contaminated site can be expensive. Although no comprehensive cost-related data is available in New Zealand, Housing New Zealand Corporation estimates that the cost of testing and undertaking remediation of a house ranges from NZ$5,000 to $80,000.

Insurance companies have different policies on P. Some do not cover it at all while some offer cover to around $25,000 to $35,000. Some cover complete reinstatement of a property after P is identified. (The NZPIF have partnered with a rental property insurance provider that has saved members considerable amount on premiums and also provides $25,000 cover for malicious damage. Click here for more information)

It is unclear if a landlord is required to advise police if they identify P has been manufactured or consumed in a property. Police in the above case knew about the tenants manufacturing meth in the rental property but did not passed this information on to the owner. Receiving this information could have help the landlord to minimise the damage.

Housing NZ has successfully gained awards from the Tenancy Tribunal against tenants contaminating their rental properties. However a successful Tribunal hearing is not the same as actually receiving the award from the tenants.

The RTA does not allow for a landlord to terminate a tenancy immediately when P residue has been identified in a property. Section 59A allows a landlord to end a tenancy with 7 days notice if the property is so seriously damaged to be uninhabitable. However there is no defined level of P contamination that would make a property uninhabitable.

A safe level of P residue needs to be established so that tenants health is protected, but unnecessary costs and loss of rental property supply is avoided. The focus needs to be on Meth manufacture which is where the health issues exist.

Rental property owners are innocent victims when their properties are contaminated and they need protection from the high costs of having their properties used for P manufacture.

The NZPIF is already working with Government to examine the problems of P in rental property and establish procedures to protect both rental property owners and their tenants.

Anticipating that many members may want or need to conduct meth tests between tenancies, the NZPIF is looking at options to minimise the cost for members.

Tags: meth contamination

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