Is 2018 the year the meth myth finally gets busted

  • New housing minister talks tough on ending 'moral panic' after potential millions wasted on testing and cleaning
  • 2018 could be the beginning of the end for many in the meth testing industry

At last! Someone with power and influence has the guts to come out say what we have been arguing for a long, long time. The 'moral panic' caused by certain Meth testing companies was instigated to make a quick dollar according to new Housing Minister Phil Twyford. Here at Real-iQ, we wholeheartedly agree.

Although we acknowledge that there are many reputable companies operating under IANZ Accreditation, many companies have been set up to try and cash in on the 'moral panic'.

Back in early 2016, we held a webinar highlighting the alarming amount of companies being set up to carry out Meth testing, warning that the industry was nothing more than a money making scam.

Is Phil Twyford right? Have your say.

Over the last few years, millions upon millions of dollars has been spent within the private and public sector on testing and cleaning properties without any evidence to suggest that low levels of meth are a risk to occupants.

In the public sector alone, $73 million has been spent on testing and decontamination whilst 900 families have been evicted from their homes.

We argue that the millions of dollars that have been fleeced out of unsuspecting landlords have probably caused more health issues. This is due to stress caused by the financial burden of dealing with the fallout of a positive Meth test. This is compared to that of a tenant living in a property with low levels of Meth contamination.

And what about the tenants? Many have probably been accused, unnecessarily so, of damaging properties. Many have been evicted out of properties when there is no actual evidence to suggest that living in the property is causing damage to their health. Instead, they find themselves being removed from a property, having to deal with the upheaval of a move which in itself takes its toll of tenants, especially those with young children.

Who benefits? Follow the dollar

In retrospect, the new guidelines of 1.5 micrograms are nothing more than a sham. With the working group of 21 who developed the standards, nearly half of this group had a financial interest in keeping the standards as low as possible. It wasn't until the 11th hour that REINZ came onto the committee and even this was after late petitioning. Dr Nick Kim, the person who seems to have the most knowledge on the subject, with absolutely no financial gain or conflict of interest in regards to the setting of standards was not even invited onto the committee.

We have seen a dramatic increase of Methamphetamine cases going to Tribunal over the last 3 years. In January 2015 there were 3 cases increasing to 38 in November 2017

Number of meth related cases

Number of cases involving Methamphetamine have increased by nearly 100% over the last two years. In 2017 1.96% of Tribunal Cases were Meth related compared to 0.99% in 2015

Dr Kim of Massey University has long argued that the guidelines, originally written for Meth labs, which are different to where a property has had Meth smoked only, are 'incredibly conservative'. His comments state that readings of 12 micrograms are more realistic. Dr Kim went on to say that even the lowest dose recorded to have a pharmaceutical effect is still 500 times higher than this 12-microgram figure, or over 3000 times higher than the 1.5 level set in the new standard.

What will happen next?

It appears that Mr Twyford is set to overhaul the new guidelines after stating that what has been set is not 'fit for purpose'. Judging by the way the new minister has started, he is not going to waste time. I for one, applaud him for doing so.

Expect to see a new, smaller committee who have no conflict of interest set up to reassess what new standards should be. I would not be surprised to see Dr Kim being invited to share his views on what the standards should be.

They will then report back to the minister with readvised standards put in place much higher than what we currently have to deal with.

Sugar soap and elbow grease should do the job of removing low levels of Meth residue according to Dr Nick Kim.

Insurance companies also suffer

At the recent LPMNZ Conference in Queenstown, Real Landlord Insurance Director Diane Nelson was equally condemning of the Meth Testing industry and gave a fascinating insight into the financial burden that insurance companies have been hit with. She even hinted that insurance companies may no longer cover Meth claims.

No matter what way you look at this, the only benefactors from this sorry state are the companies who make money from testing and cleaning. Everybody else is forced to pay, whether it is landlords, tenants or the taxpayer paying for HNZ properties to be tested and remediated.

The original guidelines had been set up for Meth labs however clever 'spin doctoring' has successfully scared us all into believing that we are living in 'Meth Armageddon'. Every house touched by a trace of Meth will cause us all to have health issues. However, have standards been set around ' second-hand smoke' from tobacco? No they haven't.

We believe that finally, people with influence are waking up to what this truly is. Scaremongering, playing of peoples fears whether it be through health concerns or fear of litigation.

Although we may not agree with everything Mr Twyford says and does, we are behind him 100% on this. The sad thing is, many a landlord and tenant have probably already suffered hardship both financially and mentally, probably unnecessarily so.


meth-pipe

Methamphetamine survey results released

We had a very strong response with exactly 100 people taking part in our short survey on Methamphetamine and whether Property Managers should be carrying out testing.
The results clearly show that nearly three quarters of you believe it is a clear conflict of interest for a Property Manager to carry out Meth testing.

However, when we asked if you thought it was safe to live in a property with a reading of 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 (new standards), you weren't so sure. Even so the majority of you believe it was safe to live in at 58%.
24% did not know and only 18% were not prepared to live in a house which was contaminated under the new standards.

Thanks to all those who took part in the survey.


meth-testing-patch-on-wall

New meth standards will solve nothing until practice notes issued

  • 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.

Should property managers do meth testing? Vote now

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.

Lisa Gerrard of REINZ advised members at a recent seminar to stay well clear of testing. Only one person disagreed on the panel.

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%.

Miles Stratford gives his opinion on this webinar around the new standards. Click the video to watch

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.