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Don’t let your client's next property purchase be a meth lab

Methamphetamine Laboratories or ‘meth labs’ are a growing problem in New Zealand. The Police are finding an increasing number each year. The potential of meth contamination is therefore also increasing.

Solicitors need to advise real estate purchasers to be cautious when buying any property, especially if the property has been used as a rental. Around seventy- five per cent of exposed meth labs are rental properties. The consequences of purchasing a meth contaminated property could be devastating financially, particularly if the contamination level is so high that the only option may be to demolish and rebuild. There are however a number of things a solicitor could suggest to their clients to do to reduce the risk of buying a meth contaminated property.

First, look to see if there is any evidence to indicate a meth lab. Meth residue may be left on surfaces and in absorbent materials (such as carpets and curtains or sinks, drains and ventilation systems) but be invisible. Is there any lab-related debris, such as chemicals and containers? Does the property have an unusual sweet ether smell, chemical fumes, ammonia or cat urine odour, or rotten egg sulphurous stink? Does it smell of paint? The smell can be reduced by extensive cleaning and /or painting. If meth residue has been painted over a surface test will not pick it up. Check for cigarette butts in outside areas as this indicates it may not have been safe to smoke inside. More often than not however there is little or no visible evidence indicating meth contamination. 

Another important indicator is the health of the tenants or occupiers (if any). Physical effects can include shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, dizziness, lack of coordination, chemical irritation, or burns to skin, eyes, nose and mouth for short term exposure. Exposure over time to meth and/ or its by-products can result in liver and kidney damage, neurological problems, and an increased risk of cancer.

Secondly, find out if the property is or was a rental. Ask the vendor or Real Estate Agent specifically about meth, in particular whether the property has been tested or monitored. Ask the vendor to warrant the property has not been used for meth manufacture. The Department of Building and Housing recommend speaking to the neighbours as they often see and hear what has gone on at the property. 

Thirdly, get a LIM report. Sometimes Police inform Councils that a lab has been present and provide a lab grading. A Council will interpret the grading and may note the risk of contamination on a property’s LIM. Some Council may add the notification permanently while others remove it once the property has been decontaminated.

Lastly, if your client(s) want certainty, have the property tested for meth contamination. There are low cost indicative tests that provide a yes/ no answer as to whether meth residue is present on the property. Samples are collected and sent to a laboratory for testing. The actual level is not ascertained, only more detailed laboratory testing would determine the level. The cost of an indicative test starts at $99.00. More detailed testing can cost $800.00 to $1,500.00 depending on the size of the property. 

Solicitors for purchasers will need to be increasing vigilant. Advise clients to always look for evidence of meth contamination, find out about the property’s past use, check with your local Council and test for possible contamination. It would be better to spend $99.00 on an indicative test as part of due diligence than putting your health, both physical and financial, at risk. 

Robyn Matthews 

Willis Toomey Robinson Scannell Hardy 
Napier


Last updated on the 2nd May 2016