Meth Contaminated Properties

Wednesday July 23, 2014



The problem

Methamphetamine or "meth" as it is commonly known, is a highly addictive and dangerous drug and is an increasing problem in New Zealand.  Since 2000, the Police have found around 1,900 meth labs (places where meth has been manufactured) around the country and estimate that this is only a fraction of the labs in operation. 

A major issue when manufacturing meth, apart from the danger of explosion, is the amount of  poisonous waste that is created.  For each quantity of the drug made, 5-6 times that amount of poisonous waste is created and is extremely dangerous, even in small amounts.  This poison can contaminate a property and remain indefinitely if not properly remediated.

Warning signs & health effects

A report from the National Drug Surveillance Bureau has indicated that 51% of meth labs were found in rental properties.  While knowing whether a property has been used as a rental is a good starting point, there are a number of other factors which may indicate that the property you are looking to purchase (or currently own and rent out) is, or has been, used as a meth lab.  Warning signs may include:

• Unusual chemical smells
• Dead or dying vegetation around drains
• Stained glasses or glass cookware
• Cold medicine or its packaging
• Glass or rubber tubing
• Unusual placement of portable gas tanks
• Chemical stains around the sink, laundry or drains
• Yellow or brown stains on ceilings, walls or appliance surfaces
• Unusual activity at the property, particularly at night.

Exposure to the chemicals and by-products of manufacturing meth can have serious consequences, and in extreme cases have the potential to be fatal.  Symptoms of short term exposure can include:

• Nausea
• Headaches
• Breathing difficulty or asthma-like symptoms
• Throat irritation

Exposure for long periods of time may lead to chronic fatigue, liver and kidney damage or even an increased risk of cancer.

What happens when a meth lab is officially located?

After a meth lab is discovered and processed by the police:

• The Police notify the local Council and the Council issues a cleansing order (under the Health Act 1986).  The Council's LIM database will then note that the property has been identified as a meth lab (pursuant to the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987). The status of the requisition will show as "current" on any future LIM report.

• Once a report is received by the Council from a "suitably qualified professional" confirming that the premises has been cleansed and the building is suitable for human habitation the requisition will be changed to "satisfied".  A copy of the cleansing report is disclosed with all future LIM reports.

• The Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act 1987 also gives the Council the discretion to note information on the LIM that it considers relevant to the property (even if there is no evidence of hazardous chemicals on the property).

The only reason a requisition will ever be deleted from the property file is if it was entered in error.  Otherwise there will always be evidence of it on the file.

Landlords liability & insurance

A landlord must not rent out a property that they know is contaminated with meth residue, as this is a breach of section 45 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986.  However, once a property has been professionally decontaminated a landlord does not have to disclose to a prospective tenant that the property has previously been contaminated, unless they are asked the question directly.

If you are a landlord it would be wise to check your insurance policy regarding coverage for fire/explosion, cost of decontamination, loss of rent.  At this point in time most insurers are still treating any issues in relation to tenant's manufacture of meth as 'accidental damage' (rather than malicious).  Insurers will generally look at a number of factors including

• What steps the landlord took to prevent loss/damage;
• Whether the landlord carried out regular inspections;
• Whether the landlord disclosed known criminal history of the tenant to insurer;
• Whether the landlord knew of the criminal activity.

It is anticipated that eventually insurers may restrict exposure to this sort of damage, or totally remove it.

Testing, clean-up and costs

It is not sufficient, and can even be dangerous, to use household cleaning products to attempt to clean up meth residue (ie. adding bleach can create mustard gas).

Although there is no comprehensive cost analysis data available in New Zealand as to the costs of clean-up, Housing New Zealand estimates that the costs of testing and remediation of a house ranges from $5,000 to $80,000 depending on the level of contamination.  Worst case scenarios have involved houses having to be demolished.

Protection and prevention

"Methminder" is a silent alarm that is guaranteed to detect the manufacture of meth.  It's presence may act as a deterrent as well as reassurance that a property is, and remains, uncontaminated.

If you are looking to purchase a property and want some assurance as to whether it has been contaminated with meth, then have the property tested for meth contamination. There are low cost indicative tests that provide a simple Yes/No answer as to whether meth residue is present on the property. Some building inspectors undertake simple testing as part of their building report. 

Purchasers need to be increasingly vigilant. When purchasing a property always look for evidence of meth contamination and make direct enquiries as to the property’s past use.  If warning signs are prevalent it is wise to obtain a LIM report and test for possible contamination. 

At Holland Beckett, we can help by discussing the property with you pre-contract and assisting with drafting appropriate conditions, if required.


Tags in this post: