“Meth House of Horror!”, “Ice Epidemic!”, “Rental Properties Test Positive for Meth/ice”. The headlines are alarming and fuel widespread fears about meth contamination. Concerns are particularly prevalent in the rental industry, with stories about investment properties being used as clandestine laboratories or smoking dens, and subsequent tenants suffering ill-effects from exposure to the toxic residue.
With alarm bells ringing, agents are worried that they may be managing a ticking health time bomb. But is the threat as big as some would have us believe?
Let’s look at a few facts and fictions.
FICTION: Any use (including smoking) of meth in a rental means it is ‘contaminated’.
Allegations that even trace levels of meth residue pose a risk have been rebuked by the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman.
“The extensive publicity surrounding methamphetamine contamination, along with exaggerated claims about the health risks posed by living in dwellings where residues of the drug can be detected, has led to considerable concern especially amongst tenants, landlords, and potential home buyers and property investors,” states the Gluckman report.
Professor Gluckman said the risk of encountering methamphetamine on home surfaces at levels that might cause harm is “extremely low” and found no evidence that residue from home meth smoking would harm future residents.
“There is no published, or robust unpublished, data relating to health risks of residing in a dwelling formerly used only for smoking methamphetamine,” the report highlights.
In most cases testing is not warranted, and remediation is appropriate only in former meth labs and properties where “excessive methamphetamine use” is indicated, Gluckman noted.
With alarm bells ringing, agents are worried that they may be managing a ticking health time bomb.
FACT: Meth manufacturing labs (clan labs) are the main source of contamination.
Manufacturing of meth poses a far greater threat to the safety of the home and the health of its occupants.
Dangerous chemicals, including lithium metal, liquid ammonia, LPG, acetone, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, are used when ‘cooking’ ice and other meth-based drugs. Not only explosive but corrosive materials are key ingredients in the recipe – and the cocktail of chemicals can leave behind a toxic residue.
If a property is found to have been used as a meth lab, it will require specialist (forensic) cleaning.
JURY IS OUT: Rentals should be tested for meth contamination.
Any meth contamination will most likely be invisible, making testing the only way to confirm or refute its presence. However, the need for the home to be tested depends on whether there is reason to suspect the property has been used as a clan lab or the occupants were heavy meth smokers.
Faced with a landlord on the brink of hysteria, agents will need to take the lead and be the source of reasoned information.
Scenario 1: No cause to suspect the home was used as a clan lab or as a smoking den?
Action: Nil. There is little reason to carry out testing.
Scenario 2: Suspect the property is being used as a clan lab?
Action: Call the police immediately.
Scenario 3: Suspect the property has previously been used as a clan lab?
Action: Investigate further (check with the local council or police). If confirmed, testing should be carried out by a Government-accredited testing agency.
Scenario 4: Suspect that heavy meth smoking may have taken place at the property?
Action: Consider having testing done. DIY test kits are available and, if the preliminary test shows a positive result, further testing should be carried out by a Government-approved service provider.
FICTION: Insurers won’t cover the cost of meth contamination clean-ups.
Whether the cost of meth contamination clean-up is covered under insurance depends on the insurer and their specific policy wording or coverage.
If a property is found to have been used as a meth lab, it will require specialist forensic cleaning.
RentCover provides up to $65,000 in cover for cleaning up a drug-contaminated property if the damage is caused by tenants during the period of insurance, along with other costs incurred, including lost rental income while the property is remediated.
While I am certainly not suggesting that meth contamination isn’t a very real risk for some landlords and agents, science shows that the issue may not be as widespread as some meth-testing operators would have everyone believe.
As with any risk in renting, the prospect of meth contamination needs to be carefully considered and mitigated. If testing is warranted, our advice is to only engage Government-accredited companies to carry out testing and any remediation works.