New Zealand Law Society - Meth testing costs still an issue, says property lawyer

Meth testing costs still an issue, says property lawyer

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With the findings by the Government's Chief Science that methamphetamine contamination rarely presents a health risk, proposed amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act before Parliament need to be reconsidered in order to unburden landlords from the cost of meth testing, property lawyer Matthew Whimp says.

Mr Whimp is a Wellington-based partner with law firm Morrison Kent.

Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman has released a report revealing current evidence that shows that methamphetamine contamination in residential properties rarely presents a health risk.

Mr Whimp says Sir Peter concludes that there is no evidence to suggest that typical levels of third-hand exposure to meth residues from consumption causes negative health results. The report illustrates that because the health risk to people is so low, testing is not usually warranted, except in the case of exposuer to residues from meth manufacture - which produces contaminants of other harmful chemicals.

Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2)

"This report is relevant to the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2) which is currently in its second reading in Parliament," Mr Whimp says.

"Initially, this bill specifically targeted methamphetamine contamination. But after hearing submissions, the Select Committee has recommended removal of most references to meth. Instead, the Bill will be more generally aimed at ‘contaminants’ whilst still singling out meth in some instances.

"Broadly speaking, the bill would allow landlords to enter rentals to test for contaminants and if contaminants are present at beyond acceptable levels, the property is to be treated as ‘uninhabitable’ and must be decontaminated. When combined with the existing obligations on landlords to provide premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness, repair and to meet health and safety requirements, it appears there is an onus on landlords to test for meth to ensure they are fulfilling these obligations. Most of the details, including what constitutes acceptable levels of contaminants, are to be set by regulation."

For a  substance to be prescribed as a contaminant, Mr Whimp says, it must be harmful to a person’s health.

"Methamphetamine has already been written into the bill as a contaminant. Whilst the prescribed threshold may be set by regulation to reflect Sir Peter’s report, the proposed bill would still require testing to establish whether that higher threshold is met. It is therefore likely, that we will continue to see testing in residential properties for meth, despite this being seen as a waste of money by Sir Peter’s report."

Reconsideration sought

Mr Whimp says that given Sir Peter's report, the government should reconsider whether the proposed amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act relating to contaminants are appropriate and if they may lead to continued wasted expenditure by landlords.

"The government needs to outline clear guidelines setting out what circumstances would require testing which are consistent with Sir Peter’s report, to save the unnecessary cost to landlords, which will inevitably be passed onto tenants," he says.