Meth testing of properties before purchase
- March 22, 2017
- Posted by: borderlawadmin
- Category: Legal advice, Property purchase
All properties may have had someone in them who has at least smoked methamphetamine and possibly even “cooked” some.
Meth contamination is not limited to just homes: factory units, cars, boarding houses even hotel/motel rooms. Anywhere that a temporary clandestine (“clan”) lab can be set up un-noticed.
Don’t be complacent because the seller are an older couple who have been in the property for 20 years. You do not know what their children may have been up to when the parents were on holiday, or maybe they had used a house sitter when on an extended holiday.
There are no standardised rules governing what level is deemed to be a risk to health or safe and how to clean the house.
Clean up can be expensive and time consuming resulting in loss of rents, additional accommodation costs and possible legal action against the owner of a lettable dwelling.
Property purchase conditional on a meth test
Before buying a residential property it would be wise to make the contract conditional obtaining a “meth test” to discover whether there is any contamination. If there is, then the property price can be re-negotiated or you can cancel the contract.
There are no generally agreed standards in NZ as to what is a safe level and there is a lot of scare mongering happening in the market.
It is essential in my view to have all properties checked whether for you own occupation or letting.
You have no idea of the history of a property and contamination could have happened many years before. You also cannot assume that the property will be clean because the current owners have been there for 30 years and seem like a “nice” people. Who knows what their children might have got up to when the parents weren’t around or whether they let the home for an extended period while they went on a long overseas trip.
How is the Testing Done?
The Ministry of Health recommends decontamination if the contamination level is more than 5 micrograms. The problem with the cheap standard meth testing is the tester uses an alcohol soaked swab to wipe on a one wall in each room of the dwelling, then sends it for testing. The testing lab then divides the result by the number of rooms tested to get an average level.
It is easy to see that one room could be heavily contaminated whilst the rest of the dwelling is clear bringing the average reading for the whole dwelling below 5 micrograms and therefore deemed to be safe. But this method of testing won’t tell you which room is contaminated or to what level.
A more detailed test of each room is required and will cost a lot more than the quick test.
How to clean up a meth contaminated house
If you want to proceed and have the rooms cleaned then a more detailed meth test is required to determine where the contamination is in the house. This could cost a lot.
Light contamination caused by smoking “P” can sometimes be cleaned by washing the walls with sugar soap and taking another reading.
Heavy contamination caused by “cooking” will have impregnated the walls and soft furnishings in the house. The only solution is to essentially take the dwelling back to the frame by ripping out the gib board wall linings and ceilings, carpets and furniture etc and starting again. This is obviously expensive as it requires specialist contractors, compliance with a lot of health and safety regulations and the property will be uninhabitable for some months while the work is done. There will be loss of income if it is a rental property or increased accommodation costs if it is your own home.
Some insurers may not cover the risk so it is essential to ask that specific question before committing to the policy. It is likely that the insurers will want proof that the contamination occurred during the term of the policy, therefore a meth test at the time of purchase will be required.
If you are letting the property then it is essential to have a clear meth test on file at the start of each tenancy, otherwise it will be impossible to prove that your tenant caused the problem. That will result in an inability to recover costs against the bond and other remedies. It adds to the landlords costs but is essential as evidence.
In a worst case the landlord may be held liable for letting an unsafe dwelling. It is essential to have a base meth test at the start of each new letting.
The above advice is necessarily a brief overview of some of the main issues. It does not mention all the applicable law. You must take legal advice that is tailored to your specific circumstances before making any decisions.