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19 October 2016

Combatting P-Labs

Despite record busts, methamphetamine use is on the rise, and much of this insidious drug is being produced at small, clandestine labs in rental properties


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We all know the devastating affect P has on people’s lives. Health, careers and families are all being destroyed, and we are now seeing the financial consequences meth has on individuals who have absolutely no direct contact with the drug – unsuspecting landlords and tenants.

What makes methamphetamine such a problem to landlords is that it’s a drug that can be made from scratch, without any experience, with easily accessible chemicals, using basic household equipment, and to the detriment of society the ‘cooking’ instructions are as freely available as the ingredients.

That’s the bad news. The good news is Ray White Damerell Group is putting measures in place to protect their landlords’ investments and their tenants’ health by combatting the establishment of these clandestine laboratories and the use of P in their rental properties.

Martin Donnelly, Senior Property Manager with Ray White’s Damerell Groups Property Management division, has first hand experience in dealing with the effects of methamphetamine, having worked in the NZ Police for six years, and he is the driving force behind this new initiative.

Martin Donnelly, Senior Property Manager for Ray White Damerell Groups Property Management division.

Martin Donnelly, Senior Property Manager for Ray White Damerell Groups Property Management division.

Regular tests

“The purpose [of the initiative] is to acknowledge and act on the problems landlords face regarding contamination from P,” says, Donnelly. “Our first line of defence is to encourage landlords to commission a simple contamination test of their properties at the beginning of every tenancy agreement. And, for long-term tenancies, conduct an annual test.”

“Our aim is to make these tests mandatory, with every property in our portfolio. We are also looking at inserting a new clause in our agreements that allows us to conduct random tests,” he adds.

How will this help? 

“Firstly, it will protect our landlords’ investments from unscrupulous tenants,” says, Donnelly. “Secondly, it gives peace of mind. If there is contamination, acknowledge it and do something about it.

“Thirdly, to protect our tenants. At open homes, we can tell prospective tenants that all our properties are tested for meth, which means we are putting them into a safe environment. This will also discourage dodgy tenants from wanting to live in properties managed by us,” he says.

“If you protect the landlords, you’ll protect the tenants.”

“Lastly, to protect the landlord. For example, if a tenant takes out a lease on an untested property, then gets a test and it comes back positive, that can potentially have ramifications on the landlord for putting the tenant into an unsafe property. It’s a grey area, but it’s best to take that scenario out of the equation.”

Who does the testing?

Ray White Damerell Group has entered into an agreement with Clan Lab – a duo of ex-cops, Leon Wood and Hamish Williams, who, between them, have 24 years experience, predominantly with drug enforcement.

“I was with the NZ Police for 10 years, working in specialist units such as The National Clandestine Laboratory Response Team, so I have hands-on experience working with the meth,” says, Williams. “Anyone can do a test. It’s where you test and what happens after the test that’s important. Our reports are factual and accurate. They are also independent.”

“If necessary, we can recommend a number of remediation companies who we know and trust. They will then conduct a site visit to assess the size of the problem and the action required to fix it,” he says.

Clan Lab offers the following tests. They are non invasive and involve simple swabs taken from selected areas around the property.

Indication Test: Samples eight areas inside your property to test if meth is present. The collective samples are then analysed by a NZ accredited laboratory to give an indicative result of the property.

Assurance Test, Stage 1: Samples five individual areas inside your property for meth. If there’s a positive result, these swabs can be further analysed (Stage 2 Testing) for individual levels without returning to the property.

Assurance Test, Stage 2: A detailed laboratory test that will give conclusive contamination levels throughout specific areas of the property. This test is necessary to support remediation when decontaminating a property.

Positive test?

“If we get a positive test from a property, we immediately tell the landlord, and offer them a consultation with Clan Lab to discuss the level of contamination and the recommended course of action that needs to be taken,” says, Donnelly. “It’s a dirty business and there’s a stigma attached, but it needs to talked about quickly, in an open and transparent way.”

Police Involvement?

“The authorities will only usually get involved if the property is part of a police operation,” he says. “The level of contamination is noted and put onto the LIM. Once remediation has been carried out, it is re-tested and the LIM is updated accordingly. In cases involving our testing with Clan Lab, there is no compulsion for us to report contamination to the police,” Donnelly, adds.

Cost of remediation?

If a test comes back showing the very lowest level of contamination, potentially a property could only need a triple clean with sugar soap. However, remediation work can run into the thousands depending on the severity of the contamination. The other issue is that, because there are no regulations around the clean up after contamination, there are companies out there that are blatantly taking advantage of landlords and homeowners by charging exorbitant fees for cleaning up their properties.

Not just for Landlords

Ray White Damerell Group Director, Gower Buchanan argues that these tests shouldn’t be restricted to investment properties; that they should be a prerequisite with every home sold. “Buying a home is the biggest investment you’re likely to make,” he says. “Why wouldn’t you invest a couple of hundred dollars in a test and making it part of your due diligence.”

Meth Lab Indicators

Outside: 

  • Windows blacked out/covered or obscured from view
  • Chemical odours (solvents mainly)
  • Empty chemical containers lying around outside
  • Exhaust fans 
  • Paranoid secretive or odd behaviour from occupants
  • Access denied to landlords/neighbours and agents
  • Frequent visitors at odd hours
  • Occupants may be unemployed however they possess nice cars and expensive toys
  • Expensive security and surveillance equipment
  • Occupants of the residence constantly going outside to smoke

Inside:

  • Yellow or brown discolouration on walls, drains, sinks and showers
  • Smoke alarms that are removed or taped off
  • Jars containing clear liquid with a red or white solid on the bottom
  • Jars containing iodine or dark shiny metallic balls inside jars
  • Jars containing red phosphorous or a fine dark red or purple powder 
  • Coffee filters containing a white pasty substance
  • A dark red sludge or small amounts of shiny white crystals

Further reading

The clear message here is that the property management team at Ray White Damerell Group are taking a responsible and proactive approach to a growing problem.

If you would like to receive a copy of our Landlord Information Guide which explains our property management services and your requirements as a landlord please click here

If you would like to read a more in-depth discussion on methamphetamine testing and remediation, you can download Guidelines for the Remediation of Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratory Sites, issued by the Ministry of Health. There is also this useful Q&A that talks about the development of a new standard for testing and remediation of methamphetamine-contaminated properties.

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