Landlords: Your investment is at risk if you’re not meth testing [our meth testing practices]

As a property manager I work for investors of property, and so it’s my job to ensure their investment makes consistent good returns and doesn’t decrease in value overtime. But there’s something quiet taking place all over New Zealand, something invisible, and it has the potential to turn a great investment into a bad one – methamphetamine!

So what’s that one simple thing you could be doing to reduce your risk? It’s implementing a meth contamination testing regime in your rental properties. Ok, so maybe it’s not that simple to implement, but it sure is a simple decision.

A recent Tenancy Tribunal decision ordered a Waikato landlord to pay more than $7,500 to his former tenants for unknowingly renting them a meth-contaminated house. This particular case sent a strong warning to property managers and landlords to test for meth contamination in their properties – but many are still not heeding the warning.

It only takes a few months smoking meth, or "P", for chemicals to seep into walls, carpets and furniture, which cause breathing problems, headaches and nausea. You can deny your properties aren’t contaminated until you’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day if you haven’t had it tested – you don’t know.

How meth impacts you as a property owner

If methamphetamine is being manufactured or more commonly is being used recreationally in your properties, your house could be deemed harmful to tenants, either those causing the problem, or future inhabitants of the property.

The several Tenancy Tribunal cases in New Zealand to date have been very costly for the home owners, where they’ve had to forfeit large sums of rent paid during the period of the lease, along with the cost of replacement of furniture, carpet, curtains etc. None of us want to be involved in such an exercise!

The new health & safety at work act also means property managers and landlords must protect the health of the contractors on a property if there’s a chance meth has been used or manufactured there.

The impact of exceeding the threshold

The Ministry of Health has set the contamination threshold at 0.5 micrograms. The threshold follows international guidelines for contamination, which indicates that any long term exposure to levels above 0.5micrograms is harmful to health, and therefore this is the level that must not be exceeded.

If contaminants above this are found in the rental property the Tenancy Tribunal will rule the property ‘uninhabitable’ and could serve the landlord with penalties. The property cannot be occupied until the contaminate level is below the threshold.

There has been a considerable range of contamination results being experienced to date. The more common lower end tend to be caused by recreational use of these drugs, whereas the higher end is being caused by manufacturing the drug.

The testing regime

If you test a property today there is no way to prove that the current tenant is the one who contaminated the property. You need to know the level of contamination at the start of the tenancy as well, so you need to establish a baseline.

The stages are as follows:

1.      Establishing a baseline

The initial testing is an average throughout the property only, and will give a ‘level of contamination’ reading. The cost of this initial swab indication test varies depending upon the size of the property, but will set you back around $220 - $350 per test.

2.      If threshold is exceeded - perform a more intensive test

Should a level be detected above the MoH threshold, then a further, more intensive test should be carried out to determine where in the property the infected areas are. This could cost around $1,000. The specific areas will then need to be cleaned until they are until the threshold.

3.      Testing for changes in contamination at the end of a tenancy

Any result at the end of the tenancy that is above the MoH threshold will require intensive cleaning, and potentially an insurance claim to be made by the property owner. Action should be taken with the Tenancy Tribunal in any case where the baseline test has been carried out and there are changes showing contamination from the current or departing tenant.

4.      In the event the second result is positive – commence a formal cleaning procedure

Once the intensive test returns a result showing which areas are above the MoH threshold, a complex cleaning process needs to be undertaken to ensure the contaminated areas are sufficiently cleaned to deem it safe and suitable for habitation. This is where it gets expensive.

This process is currently only able to be carried out by properly certified providers and involves substantial retesting to ensure the contaminants have in fact been removed.

There are many questions regarding the qualifications of both the testers and the cleaners in the marketplace, but until there is legislation provided to support these areas, we can only use the services that are currently available, and select such contractors with a good track record.

You can’t afford not to

The initial testing is a selling advantage. Good tenants want to be reassured that the property they are moving in to has been tested and found to be clear. Any that are concerned by this process should probably move on to another property that is not being managed in this manner.

The potential cost to you if your property is found to be contaminated is far too great to avoid the relatively much lower cost of having pre and post tenancy tests carried out. Through this process and good record keeping it’ll be straight-forward to prove which tenants are responsible, making your cost recovery much more likely.

I’m advising all my landlords to seek independent advice, particularly from their insurer, if they are not interested in having their property included in the new testing regime.

So if you want to talk to a property manager who is taking meth contamination seriously to protect your investment then please contact me today at keith@niceplace.co.nz

 
Nick Phillips