In August 2014 two-year-old Emma Lita-Bourne died after suffering a brain haemorrhage. The story made the news the following winter after a coroner reported that the condition of the property had contributed to the little girl’s death. The property was contaminated and it wasn’t methamphetamine.

Instead, dampness and mould had played a significant contributing factor into the death of young Emma according to the coroner. It was a story that highlighted the sorry state of many rental properties around New Zealand and in particular, Housing New Zealand.

If that wasn’t bad enough, last year a BRANZ report was released stating that up to 1,600 deaths a year could be attributed to the poor condition of New Zealand housing.

Yet somehow, the poor condition of New Zealand’s rental stock has not been the focus that it should have been. Instead, New Zealanders have been gripped by the fear of owning or living in a Meth contaminated property. It has now become clear that this country has potentially wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on what appears to be nothing more than fake news and, in some cases, scaremongering that has led us to this ‘moral panic’.

 Emma Lita-Bourne died only two years old and the poor condition of property she lived in contributed to her death according to the coroner. No one has been able to name me a tenant who died from living in a meth contaminated property

Emma Lita-Bourne died only two years old and the poor condition of property she lived in contributed to her death according to the coroner. No one has been able to name me a tenant who died from living in a meth contaminated property

Housing New Zealand has spent approximately $100 million on testing and decontamination work. What has the private sector spent? Probably about the same. Yet no one anywhere can name an individual who has died because they have been exposed to one of these properties.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve completely got our priorities methed up!

A Brief History of the Industry

I have seen the Methamphetamine testing and cleaning industry evolve from its early days at the start of the decade all the way up to its zenith. I also have to confess that in the early days of the industry, even I was sucked into it, becoming a ‘Methsolutions Certified Sampler’ whatever credibility that qualification had.

I even appeared on the front page of the Manawatu Standard back in November 2013 stating that properties will need to be proven to be ‘meth free’ before being rented out.

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We have been writing about the Meth Testing industry for over two years questioning the validity of it. In January this year, we predicted that the Government would review it’s stance on Meth and we were proven to be right.

However, as the problem grew, after a while, you start to question yourself. Is all the money being spent on this necessary? Has anyone actually got seriously ill from living in a property? Who is policing the testers and the decontamination companies?

It became apparent to me that there was a big problem back in February 2016. I was invited to speak at a Barfoot and Thompson training day in Auckland and before my presentation, a highly respected legal consultant presented before me. His presentation was going to be on the new Health and Safety at Work Act, but it was soon to be hijacked around the risks of methamphetamine contamination. He stated that under the new Health and Safety at Work Act, every rental property would have to be tested for methamphetamine contamination and every property manager was putting themselves at risk by going into untested properties. It all seemed a bit over the top to me.

At the end of his presentation, he then proudly announced that his company had just launched their new ‘meth testing service’.

Scaremongering? I’ll let you make up your own mind.

What this presentation did though was prompt me to start researching the industry. If he was getting into it, who else was?

The results shocked me. In a two-month window between 1st May 2016 and 30th June 2016, at least twenty companies had been set up to do work within the testing and remediation sector. None had been set up during the same period the previous year.

In July 2016 I wrote an article ‘Welcome to the Wild West of Meth Testing’ arguing that the industry was wide open to corruption with a massive increase in the number of companies being set up without regulation.

After getting plenty of support from that article, I became convinced that what we were witnessing was at best scaremongering with some dubious tactics and at worst, a money-making scam.

To View the Gluckman Report Click Here

Was it all a great big scam?

Well, it is too early to tell, but it does need to be investigated. If you give the benefit of the doubt to the early pioneers in this industry they may have been acting on incorrect information or they are only catering to the demand created by decisions that came out of the Tenancy Tribunal.  I will be the first to admit that not everyone who works in this industry are bad people. I have met many operators who genuinely believe in what they are doing, one, in particular, only started his company after his brother became a meth addict. If you’re in business, it has to be for the right reasons.

But as reality begins to bite, many of these individuals will soon be looking for a new job or career as the industry has been dealt a near fatal blow by Sir Peter Gluckman and I for one applaud him.

There is no doubt that there will be literally hundreds of landlords and tenants now seeking some retribution and probably with some justification. We are already seeing the public and media outcry, looking for someone to blame. Housing New Zealand, The National Party!

Who is to blame?

One thing being in business does teach you is that when things go wrong, rarely is it the fault of one person. This sorry state of affairs is no different and there are multiple reasons why it escalated to become the scandal it has.

The Tenancy Tribunal

For three years now, I have been collecting Tenancy Tribunal decisions on cases that involve methamphetamine. They make for some interesting reading and one of the key issues is the lack of clarity as to what you can and cannot claim for. There is also a wide range of damages awarded for relatively low levels of contamination.

Here are some simple examples.

·       Case Number 4005320 13th June 2016

o   The tenant is ordered to pay $35,764.72 to the landlord the highest reading of eight tests was 2.6 micrograms and only three were above the then guidelines of 0.5 micrograms. The entire property was refurbished after recommendations by the company Prodecon.

·       Case Number 4065206 20th March 2017

o   The tenant is ordered to pay $3007.83 for decontamination and $2,318.50 for testing with a reading of 2.5 micrograms. That’s a $30,000 difference.

·       Case Number 4083990 1st June 2017

o   The tenant is ordered to pay for cleaning and testing due to contamination even though the highest reading is well under Ministry of Health guidelines.

Yet probably one of the most controversial decisions was made by Adjudicator Hogan who released a tenant from a fixed term tenancy back in March 2016 stating that any level of methamphetamine was too high. In this case, the highest reading was 0.17 micrograms.

It was the Tenancy Tribunal who came to the conclusion as to what was acceptable or uninhabitable. The reality is that they made rulings based on a Ministry of Health document written back in 2010 for Guidelines for the Remediation of Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratory Sites. This document stated that levels of contamination for labs should not exceed 0.5 micrograms.

In the Tribunal’s eyes, once a property had sufficient traces of meth, it was deemed to be health risk even though the likelihood is that it was through use rather than manufacturing and this was the first big mistake.

A prime example is when you get a reading of 212 micrograms as we saw in one case late last year, you can presume that it is a lab. Yet these cases are few and far between.

By making that decision the Tenancy Tribunal opened the floodgates.

The Media

 The media often printed images such as this but rarely questioned the validity of the statistics.

The media often printed images such as this but rarely questioned the validity of the statistics.

There is a sense of hypocrisy from certain media outlets when you read……….

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