Is it really OK to buy a P house?


There is no denying that methamphetamine is a dangerous and insidious drug. Users come from all walks of life and live in all communities and some drug testing companies have claimed that up to 80 per cent of New Zealand homes could contain traces of the drug. However, the recent report from the prime minister’s chief science advisor has pointed out that most people run a very low risk of living in a property with dangerous levels of meth contamination.

The May 2018 report from Professor Sir Peter Gluckman found that there was no point in testing a property for meth contamination unless there was a strong suspicion or evidence that it had been used as a meth ‘lab’ or there had been very heavy drug use there. The researchers found no evidence of anyone being harmed from passive use and said there was no adverse health risk of third-hand exposure to methamphetamine residue from smoking found on household surfaces. Even if someone had been smoking methamphetamine within a property, any residue on household surfaces diminishes over time, so someone living in a property would not be exposed to a constant dose every day.

According to the report, a house is safe to live in up to a methamphetamine level of 15 micrograms per 100cm2, with no adverse health effects.

No one wants to expose their family to any health risks or to make a significant financial commitment to a property if they are worried that it might go wrong.

When it comes to looking at properties, it’s always better to rely on concrete knowledge or evidence rather than rumour. If you are concerned about a house you are interested in, ask the real estate agent if it has been tested, noting that levels less than 15 micrograms per 100cm2 are safe to live in. If you don’t make the agent aware that methamphetamine is a real concern to you the agent is not obligated to tell you about results that are considered to be safe, with no health effects (in other words those below 15 micrograms per 100cm2).

But if you have asked the agent about methamphetamine the real estate agent must tell you what they know about a property and must answer all queries honestly. If they are aware that a property has methamphetamine test results either above OR below 15 micrograms per 100cm2, they must tell you what they are.

If the local council has been notified (usually by the New Zealand Police) that the property has been used as a site for heavy meth consumption or production, this should be recorded on the Land Information Memorandum (LIM).

If you learn that a property has tested positive for methamphetamine before you make an offer (and you are still interested in buying it), your course of action depends on the level of the result and your appetite for the work required to put it right. You can seek advice from a meth testing and remediation company on the estimated amount of work required for results above 15 micrograms per 100cm2, and negotiate with the seller for an according reduction in price. Alternatively, you can add a condition to your offer asking the seller to clean and decontaminate the property to an agreed acceptable level.

Talk to your lawyer before making an offer on a property if you are concerned that it may be affected but you don’t have time to get it tested. They will be able to advise you about including a satisfactory test as a condition of your offer.

Bear in mind that meth testing is not currently regulated in New Zealand. It may be a good idea to research the particular remediation company before you engage them.. Be aware that composite field testing, where multiple samples taken throughout a property are combined into a single sample, can lead to false impressions of high exposure. This type of testing is not recommended.

When the meth report came out Sir Peter Gluckman said people were more at risk from mould in homes than they were from meth contamination. His statement is a good reminder that there are lots of things to consider when looking for a house to make your home. Asking questions, weighing up real evidence is the only way to make sure you’ll sleep easy with your decision.

Kevin Lampen-Smith is the chief executive of the Real Estate Authority (REA).

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