The consequences of Meth in rental properties has been escalating over the last few years. Fortunately it isn't the actual health consequences of meth in rentals (except for those actually consuming the stuff) but uninformed fear of what meth residue can do and the potential for highly expensive remediation if it is discovered in your rental.
Other factors have also meant that rental property owners need to be extremely careful around the meth situation. These include decisions by the Tenancy Tribunal and actions taken by insurers.
Previously the acceptable level of meth was .5 micrograms per 100 square centimetres. If a property contained a higher level than this it was said to be "contaminated", an emotionally charged word that most people believe means toxic. In other words if you are living in a property over this level you are likely to get sick. However this isn't true.
To put the level into perspective, imagine a piece of meth the size of a grain of salt divided into 1,000 pieces. The previous level amounted to find one of these pieces per 100 square centimetres. It is an amount that was estimated not to cause any effect on even a susceptible human, with a safety factor of 300 applied on top. In other words it was an extremely conservative level.
Despite this, the fear of meth has led to outcomes such as tenants immediately vacating properties if any level of meth was found and Tribunal awards against landlords providing an unclean and unhealthy property even when the level of meth was less than the acceptable levels.
So it was good that the Ministry of Health (MOH) revised its recommendations and increased the acceptable unmanufactured meth level to 1.5 if there was carpet in the property and 2 if there wasn't any carpet. They kept the level the same if it could be proven that manufacture had taken place.
The rationale was that the .5 level should remain for manufacturing in a property so that you could be sure that other nasty chemicals that might be involved in the manufacture process are not present.
Although the MOH thought that the higher levels would apply unless manufacture was proven, some local authorities (who actually set the regulations) might take the view that the .5 level would remain unless it was proven manufacture didn't occur.
To remove any possibility of confusion, the NZ Standards Meth committee decided to include a 1.5microgram level regardless of how the meth came to be in the property.
Both the MOH and NZ Standards Meth Committee recommendations were put into the draft Standard that went out for public consultation.
The final Meth Standard is likely to be released in June and may in fact be released by the time you read this.
At the higher 1.5microgram level, it means that many properties that would have required cleaning previously will no longer need it. Testing laboratories have advised that around 80% of the samples they currently test are less than the 1.5 microgram level.
The higher level will also make it easier for meth cleaning companies to get levels at or below the 1.5 level, so there is an expectation of good improvements through the new standard.
The cost of meth claims for Insurance companies has been increasing, so hopefully this will reduce when new standards are released. Despite this, insurance companies are changing their policies with regard to meth, increasing excess levels and reducing maximum claim amounts.
They are also getting firmer on holding rental property owners responsible for checking their properties. It is advisable to check how you are covered if you are unsure. Consider looking at using Initio, the rental property insurance policy that has a relationship with the NZPIF.
Regarding checking your property, the NZ Standard draft required landlords to know what they were doing if they were conducting their own meth tests, meaning undertaking training. There will also be a list of approved self test kits so that the quality of test gear can be guaranteed.
The draft Standard also contained standard procedures to standardise sampling and cleaning companies plus laboratories. The draft Standard also contained measures to protect consumers against conflicts of interests by ensuring sampling and cleaning companies are separate.
The rental property industry is certainly looking forward to the release of the NZ Meth Standard in June. While there will be steps and procedures that we will need to undertake, it is likely that the existing problems caused by the meth issue will be greatly reduced.
Andrew King, Executive Officer, NZPIF