Meth contamination in housing – do we need to worry about it? 

How much of a problem is meth contamination?

Not as much of a problem as we thought, according to a recent report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Scientist.

According to the report, your health is at risk from meth contamination in your home only if your home has been used in the manufacture of meth (ie methamphetamine, also known as “P”); there is no evidence that the level of residue in the house resulting from meth smoking alone will be a risk to health.

If a house has been used to manufacture meth then it is unlikely to be safe to live in until it has been properly decontaminated. Exposure to unsafe levels can cause a number of short- and long-term health issues. Some common symptoms include rashes, headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath.

A house that has been used to manufacture meth will need to be decontaminated to a level of 0.5 micrograms per 100 square centimetres before it can be safely inhabited. See the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) report, Guidelines for the Remediation of Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratory Sites, for more details.

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What is the landlord’s responsibility around ensuring a rental property is not contaminated by methamphetamine?

Under tenancy law, landlords are not required to meth-test their rental properties, however must not knowingly rent out a property that is contaminated. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment advises landlords to periodically check for signs of methamphetamine manufacture (in between tenancies or with the agreement of the tenant), and check their insurance cover.

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The  landlord of the place I used to rent wants me to pay for the cost of decontaminating the property, after the rental tested positive for meth contamination. What are my rights?

If the landlord has reason to believe that you have made the rental property unsafe by smoking or manufacturing meth on the property, they can apply for an order from the Tenancy Tribunal to recover the cost of decontamination and testing the property.

The Tribunal can determine whether having the property decontaminated is justified and whether it can be proved that you are responsible for the property being contaminated.

The landlord will need to convince the Tribunal that you “caused or threatened to cause substantial damage to the house”. Note that it is not enough to show simply that the house has been contaminated; they will need to show why they believe that you caused the contamination.

If you want to dispute what the landlord is saying it is very important that you attend the Tribunal hearing. You can find out more about preparing for or attending a Tribunal hearing on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Tenancy website or the Tenancy Protection Association website, or contact your local CAB.

In earlier cases the Tribunal has ruled in favour of the landlord and also ordered the tenant to pay for the cost of the decontamination, but it has also ruled in favour of the tenant and ordered the landlord to refund rent money because they rented out a contaminated property.

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How can I tell whether a property is contaminated?

A good start is to ask the property owner (or real estate agent or letting agent) whether meth has been manufactured on the property. If you ask them this they have to tell you (if they are aware of it).

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service has a list of warning signs that you can look out for, including the presence of: 

  • unusual chemical smells
  • manufacturing equipment such as chemical containers, containers fitted with glass or rubber tubing
  • yellow / brown stains on the floor, wall, ceiling and appliance surfaces.

The above are signs that the property has been used in the manufacture of meth and is not safe to live in until it has been decontaminated. 

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What about meth testing?

According to the Chief Scientists report, unless you detect any of the signs listed above at the property then it’s probably not worth doing any meth testing of the property.

There is currently no industry standard that a person must meet before they can start a meth testing business. More importantly, although there are recommendations regarding safe levels of contamination, these have not yet been incorporated into official standards.

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What should I do if I think a property has been contaminated?

If a property appears to have been contaminated by the manufacture of methamphetamine, you should contact the Police and your local council. If you are a tenant of the property you should also notify your landlord.