What landlords can do about methamphetamine

As a landlord, you want your property to be in the best hands. You can vet prospective tenants by carefully checking their references and going with the people you feel are the best fit. You can conduct regular inspections to keep an eye on your property and its maintenance.

However something that may have seemed unlikely in the past is unfortunately becoming more common; the risk that the tenants will use your premises to make drugs.

Methamphetamine, commonly known as ‘P’, is a significant problem in New Zealand. In 2003, a government report stated that 2.7% of the population was using the drug. While current figures stand around 1%, the worrying trend is rental houses are now being re-purposed as meth labs.

Most meth used in this country comes from a local lab, many of which are in suburban houses. In a Guardian report last year into the drug’s popularity, Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation said, “Labs blow up, labs get busted, but they always re-emerge. The rise of recreational drug use in New Zealand is quite unique and deeply founded in our geographic isolation.”

Living in a property contaminated with meth can be very risky, causing serious health problems to future tenants. It’s also not great for your wallet - insurance premiums will go up, as will higher excess amounts, while claim caps will lower.

So how can you protect your property from the damage that can come from the presence of methamphetamine? A baseline test can detect presence of drugs in the premises. It’s wise to do this test while you’re between tenants to be able to work out who is responsible should any appear. Without it, it’s difficult to be able to legally prove liability of tenants.

This test involves the collection of individual samples which are then combined and sent to a testing lab (this procedure is known as a field composite), by individual samples which are kept separate from each other, or by individual swabs (lab composite). Each test has its own pros and cons, with the field composite being the cheapest option and the individual samples the most expensive.

A property manager can help you decide on which test to go with and give further advice. They’ll also be able to provide you with an updated tenancy agreement which contains a clause relating to drug testing a property.

They can also take you through the new standards around methamphetamine testing, which were applied back in June. The main updates were to the maximum allowable contamination levels, a separation in duties between those testing a property and those involved in cleaning it (to avoid potential conflicts of interest) and the requirement for testers and their companies to be properly accredited.

While no landlord wants to think that their house is being used for something sinister like a meth lab, by being proactive and educating yourself about what you can do, you’ll reduce the likelihood of this being a situation that happens to you.