Recent media attention has drawn a number of enquiries from concerned landlords and home buyers regarding the effect methamphetamine contamination has on property values, and there is little doubt this is a growing problem across all of New Zealand and across all socio-economic groups as well.
My research has indicated that upwards of 35 percent of meth tests are returning positive with a large proportion of these sampled exceeding Ministry of Heath guidelines of 0.5ug/100cm2 therefore requiring decontamination. Typically, 75 percent of P-Labs uncovered by police have been in rental properties, and in 2014 Housing New Zealand tested 196 homes finding 51 percent contaminated.
Knowing whether or not you have an issue is not easy, as often the presence of meth contamination is difficult to see or smell and dangerous levels of contamination can come not just from the manufacture of the drug, but also heavy usage too.
You may be fortunate and see some evidence of chemicals, but often you can get a good insight from asking the neighbours what the tenants or current home owner is like. Meth testing kits are also available, but like store bought pregnancy tests you are best to consult an expert to be really sure! Professional testing is generally a two-stage process with the first being a “composite test” that involves testing several areas using swabs to check for the presence of meth. If meth is detected, there is a second test that is more thorough (and costly) to determine the level of contamination. If this second test records a result greater than 0.5ug/100cm2 this is considered as unhabitable/dangerous as set out in the Ministry of Health department guidelines and decontamination is required. This should also be recorded on the property’s LIM report held by the Council.
(Heavy use of meth can push contamination to levels similar to that found when there has been manufacturing of the drug. Therefore, in practice they do not separate between “use” and “manufacture” to classify meth contamination, but rather focus on the positive/negative first test result and the level of contamination, if positive, from the second test). Decontamination can vary from triple cleaning every surface through to complete removal and replacement of all contaminated linings. This can even extend into the roof cavity framing if there is evidence of ventilation of fumes into this area.
Further testing after decontamination is then required to ensure all dangerous levels of contamination are removed before the tester can state that the house is safe for habitation.
There is increasing compliance on landlords and Real Estate professionals to disclose meth contamination, and prospective buyers and homeowners should seek advice from their lawyers regarding protective clauses in Sales & Purchase Agreements and Rental Agreements.
Sales values can also be affected for known meth contaminated homes, as the cost of remediating the problem has the potential to see prospective purchasers negotiate with the vendors. As with all property purchase transactions, buyers should complete full due diligence on their purchase before the unconditional date and before they sign any Sales & Purchase agreement.
The costs of remediation can vary depending on the level of contamination and the method of decontamination needed to return the dwelling back to safe levels and safe habitation.
I’d like to thank Matt Mason from Betta Inspect It for his input into this article.