Opinion split on the risk from Meth contamination
BRANZ report states 1600 Kiwis die every winter due to poor condition of housing
Methsolutions defy REINZ stance on Property Managers doing testing
Late last month the eagerly anticipated new standards around Methamphetamine contamination were released. This has come after a lengthy process which also involved a large amount of public submissions. Clearly, there is plenty of emotion involved around this hugely controversial topic. This was evident during the recent REINZ Seminar involving members of the panel that helped introduce the new standards. Included on the panel where Lisa Gerrard (REINZ), Darryl Thompson (Auckland Council), Miles Stratford (MethSolutions) and lawyer Richard Hern.
The seminar was held in conjunction with the release of the new standards and many left the seminar with more questions than answers as opinion appears to be split on what is deemed a safe and acceptable level of contamination for a property to be lived in.
Although no one doubts the issues around Meth in society, there is large debate around how much of a risk low levels of contamination are to the public and also to residents who live in such houses. The new NZS 8510 standards that have been set are as follows.
· Contamination cannot exceed 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 for high level areas (living areas, garages)
· Contamination cannot exceed 3.8 micrograms per 100cm2 for low level areas (under a property or in the attic)
· Qualifications will be available for Meth testers however, this is still some time away
With insurance giant IAG setting a precedent with its stance around Meth, it seems unlikely that the new NZS 8510 Standards will impact its stance on refusing to pay out on claims where it cannot be established when the contamination took place.
Property Managers doing Meth Testing? No problem according to Miles
Probably the most controversial moment of the REINZ seminar was Miles Stratford’s stance that Property Managers did not have a conflict of interest if they carried out testing - even though Lisa Gerrard and Richard Hern advised the room of Property Managers not to engage in Meth testing and leave it to an independent company.
We questioned Mr Stratford about his relationship with Bolitho Property Management in Nelson who are certified Meth Testers trained by MethSolutions. We asked Mr Stratford whether he disagreed with the stance of REINZ and of lawyer Richard Hern. After pressing him he finally said yes he disagreed with REINZ.
How big is the risk?
The need for Head Adjudicator Melissa Poole to release Practice Notes is now becoming critical as going to Tenancy Tribunal is almost like playing Russian Roulette as different adjudicators have differing opinions, highlighted in some of the rulings that we have researched. We sympathise with the role the adjudicators face as they are clearly as confused as we are as to how big the risk is. The main bone of contention is whether a property with a ruling of under 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 is reasonably clean. Opinion is split.
- 1st June 2017, J Tunnicliffe awards cleaning and testing against the tenant despite readings of only 0.89 micrograms per 100cm2. This is due to the property not being left in a reasonable clean condition at the end of a tenancy.
- 30th November 2016, A Macpherson throws out a claim by tenants for full compensation of rent after a third full diagnostic report found that after 12 samples were taken none exceed 1.5 micrograms and only one exceeds 0.5 micrograms. This is the first major case to refer to the new “Review of Remediation Standards” which was carried out in October last year.
- 13th June 2016, W Lang awards $35,764.72 to the landlord after detailed results show the property is contaminated with the highest reading being 2.6 in the hall.
- 18th August 2016, D Malcolm states that LJ Hooker are jointly liable for $6,788.44 only because they stated that they were the landlord on the tenancy agreement
- 11th April 2017, J Setefano states that Barfoot and Thompson are liable for $15,020.44 which contradicts the previous order by D Malcolm.
- 19th April 2017, D Cullen dismisses a claim for Meth cleaning and decontamination. This was after Debra Young from Methsolutions gives evidence to suggest that undetected levels of methamphetamine can bleed through a surface over time and decontamination cleaning can elevate levels of methamphetamine detected in a home.
The only real way we will get certainty on how to proceed is for Ms. Poole to come out with Practice Notes around how Tribunal should rule on different levels of Meth contamination.
Real-iQ are advising clients that according to the ruling by A Macpherson in the case between Forkett and Lodge City Rentals, anything under 1.5 micrograms is an acceptable standard and there is no reason why a tenancy should not commence.
Are Testing company adverts misleading?
One issue we do have here at Real iQ is the advertising and press releases around how many properties tested are contaminated. You will see companies portraying the problem that 40% of properties tested are contaminated. However, results will pick up levels as little as 0.02 micrograms per 100cm 2. In a recent webinar, Miles Stratford states that of the 40% which come back positive, 30% would be over the 1.5 micrograms reading from baseline tests. This means that only 12% would be over the new standards and this is for baseline testing. The reality is that if you did the detailed discrete testing the results would be even lower, probably under 5%.
That is a big difference from 40%.
1600 Kiwis die each year through cold housing according to BRANZ
Unfortunately, as winter grips, the real problem around New Zealand housing is overlooked as Meth continues to dominate the news. A recent article in the Listener magazine referred to a BRANZ report highlighting that as many as 1600 Kiwis die each winter due to the poor condition of the properties they live in. Unsurprisingly, tenants are most at risk. In our opinion, this is real problem that needs to be addressed around rental properties in New Zealand.
1600 people dying unnecessarily is a national disgrace yet we aren't aware of anybody dying from living in a property with low levels of Meth contamination.
Testing companies will push Tribunal and local councils to have as lower levels of acceptable readings as possible, arguing that a property is not clean if it has traces of Meth. They will be the main benefactor from lower Meth readings.
Insurance companies will also be diving for cover forcing landlords and prospective purchasers to spend money on testing whilst we all wait for Tribunal to give us some guidance as to how to tackle this problem.
At Real-iQ, we are advising clients to recommend that testing is done inbetween tenancies but this is ultimately the landlords decision. The only reason we are doing this is to protect our clients from litigation.
We are hopeful that Practice Notes will be released soon and we do not have to wait too long for qualifications to be established for the Meth Testing industry.
Meanwhile as winter truly bites, thousands of Kiwi's battle sickness and ill health caused by the cold and damp properties, many of them are tenants and struggle to make ends meet. Surely we have our priorities wrong and this should be our focus.