Blog Post

What Landlords Need to Know About Methamphetamine

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Landlords and property managers in New Zealand should educate themselves about both the risk and the ease of setting up meth or P labs in rental properties. In particular, they need to understand the physical dangers and the enormous financial cost. In cities and rural areas throughout the country there is a rise in the production of methamphetamine, or meth.
Meth is an addictive drug that can be created or “cooked” in makeshift laboratories often called clan (clandestine) labs. These clan labs can be set up temporarily and moved relatively easily. Meth is quite inexpensive and easy to make, so it is a common activity for those looking to make some fast money. Meth labs have been discovered all over the country, in every setting from farm houses to inner-city, luxury homes. If you think your town, your street or your rental property is an exception, you could be very wrong, indeed.

What Impact Could a Meth Lab Have?

The contamination to the home, where these drugs are manufactured, is extensive and pervasive. The meth, itself, will not only layer and stain the walls and ceilings and all surfaces of the house, it will penetrate deep into the walls, even into the insulation and the framing of the house. Families, who move into a home where a clan lab has previously been manufacturing P, can suffer from all sorts of illnesses. Not only do people breathe meth vapours in but meth residues can be absorbed by contact with the skin. In addition to the meth itself, the toxic by-products and pre-cursors from meth production can also cause serious health problems, hence the term, “sick house”. Even a one-time exposure can cause immediate ailments to manifest. These include burning skin, stinging eyes, headaches, nausea, fatigue, respiratory issues like coughing and longer term loss of health like hair loss, kidney failure, certain types of cancer and even death.
A P Lab set up a rental property, for even a few weeks, should be a landlord’s and any future tenant’s greatest fear. Quite apart from the risk Police knocking down doors to serve search warrants, the almost invisible destruction of the property often requires comprehensive testing to establish the true extent of the “infection”. The true cost of cleanup or in some cases demolition of the house is enormous, although most insurance companies will cover this loss. Ministry of Health guidelines form the basis of the cleanup or decontamination process, with more stringent levels than many other countries required to reach the point where they consider a home healthy or safe. This process can take weeks or months where the house cannot be rented, so loss of income insurance for landlords is a must. Property owners wanting to sell should test for meth contamination before they list the house on the market because home buyers and investors alike usually test for meth themselves. You don’t want to find out after the property has been listed that there is a meth contamination, as that will greatly reduce the sale price, even after it is decontaminated. Even the smoking of crystal meth or meth powder mixed with other drugs can contaminate a house over time to the point that a home is uninhabitable and unsaleable.

Meth Lab Clues

Conduct regular property inspections or get your property manager to send you reports of their inspections. Watch for signs that indicate a meth lab like empty chemical containers, as well as stained floors and walls or soil or concrete. You may notice dying trees and shrubs and dead grass. As the lab itself may be hidden in the ceiling or in a shed or in a basement or garage, be thorough conducting the house inspection. Look for extra air vents or extractor fans, new security systems and investigate unusual chemical smells, like ammonia, which can create quite a stink, much like urine. Next door neighbours will probably smell odours and become unhealthy too. They will likely see increased activity at the rental property, especially at night. If you are alerted to any of these suspicious activities don’t disturb anything and call the police. Do not investigate further as a meth lab is a hazardous waste site.  Only those authorised to conduct detailed site investigations should enter the property.

Decontamination

Cleaning up a meth lab or former P House, as is usually the case, begins with comprehensive testing by approved and certified site investigators who will swab precisely measured areas of the surfaces to isolate the worst affected areas of contamination. Primary areas are the meth “cooking” area and meth-by-product disposal areas where walls, floors, ceilings, all electrical appliances and fittings, sinks, baths, toilets, extractor fans and ventilation systems will be heavily affected and may require partial demolition or substantial deconstruction before chemical decontamination of the remaining structure. Less affected areas of contamination further away may require less invasive remediation programmes.

A properly equipped and trained hazardous material company must do the cleanup of a meth lab. Do not attempt this yourself. There are numerous horror stories from those whose health and safety has been seriously compromised. When completed, tests to ensure that the home is safe for future residents are performed. If the tests are not below Ministry of
Health guidelines, then further decontamination work is conducted until the tests all pass.
Only then should tradespersons be admitted into the newly “safe” house to begin the jobs of rebuilding, rewiring, refitting and redecorating and commercially cleaning the home.