P-contamination in Residential Property

Every day more Kiwis are learning that they have been living in methamphetamine (P)-contaminated properties. Discovering you have purchased a contaminated property can be financially, mentally and physically devastating for you and your family. This article looks at P-testing and the risks if you suspect the property is P-contaminated and nothing is done.

When purchasing a property there is a lot you should consider. Purchasers are usually advised to include a builder’s report, Land Information Memorandum (LIM), obtaining finance and insurance on the agreement’s standard conditions. Many purchasers overlook the possible need for P-testing when buying a property. Since 2002 the use of P has skyrocketed, and it’s not wise to presume that properties in well-respected areas are safe. P-users come from many different walks of life.

Properties where P has been produced or regularly used are exposed to numerous chemicals which are absorbed by different surfaces and structural features. P-contamination within properties is rarely visible and it can cost huge sums to decontaminate.

The health risks associated with living in a contaminated property should not be taken lightly. Inhaling chemicals such as concentrated acid, mercury and lead can cause cancer, kidney failure, neurological damage and birth defects for unborn children.

Testing for P-contamination

Due to the increase in P use there are now many companies that specialise in P-testing for residential properties. Most companies can be found by a simple Google search. The property will be visited and samples taken from non-porous surfaces, such as bench tops and metal structures. If the property tests positive (over a certain threshold) it will be recommended the property be decontaminated.

Test prices range from about $150 to $700 depending on the size of the property and its location. This fee seems a good investment when you compare it with a potential decontamination bill of up to $20,000.

In certain situations, some properties are past the point of decontamination and require demolishing. It’s important to note that decontamination cannot be done yourself, a professional must be contracted to carry out the work correctly. Specific guidelines for contamination are currently being developed. Some local authorities now note on the LIM that a property has received a positive test for the drug until it has been decontaminated. This could seriously de-value your property.

Furthermore, when selling your property the standard agreement states the vendor has no knowledge of notices from any local authority, tenant or any other party concerning any requests to remedy any issues. If at any stage you are made aware of contamination you would be obliged to inform any prospective purchaser, otherwise there could be a significant loss of value to your property.

Investment properties

It has become very common for people to buy investment properties. However, many of these purchasers don’t take the necessary steps to ensure their tenants are safe from possible P-contamination.

As a landlord you have legal obligations to your tenants. Any landlord who lets a contaminated property is in breach of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, the Building Act 2004 and the Health Act 1956 and can face severe consequences. A handful of cases concerning P-contaminated rentals have occurred over the years. One recent case concerned a family that rented a contaminated home in Tuakau1. The Tenancy Tribunal ordered that the landlord refund rent payments to the family and also reimburse them for the costs incurred with dumping their contaminated personal belongings. As a result of this case, landlords now have an obligation to test for P before letting any property.

Purchasing a property is a long-term investment and corners should not be cut. If you don’t test for P you are potentially risking the health of your loved ones along with a possible decontamination fee of up to $20,000. You should seriously consider that a P-test be carried out by a qualified person as a further condition in your agreement.

1 Visagie v Harper Property Management 15/06955/MK 16 March 2016

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