Residential Tenancies Reform Continues to Escalate Meth Testing Costs

by Matthew Whimp

The Government’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, has released a report revealing current evidence that shows that methamphetamine contamination rarely presents a health risk.

According to reports, millions of dollars have been wasted on meth testing residential properties, creating unnecessary panic and cost burden for landlords and tenants alike. As Sir Peter’s findings come to light, the proposed amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act currently before parliament need be reconsidered, in order to unburden landlords from the cost of meth testing.

THE REPORT

Sir Peter concludes that there is no evidence to suggest that typical levels of third-hand exposure to meth residues from consumption, causes negative health results.  The report illustrates that because the health risk to people is so low, testing is not usually warranted, except in the case of exposure to residues from meth manufacture – which produces contaminants of other harmful chemicals.

AMENDMENTS TO THE RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES ACT

This report is relevant to the Residential Tenancies Amendment No.2 Bill which is currently in its second reading in Parliament. Initially, this Bill specifically targeted methamphetamine contamination. But after hearing submissions, the Select Committee has recommended removal of most references to meth. Instead, the Bill will be more generally aimed at ‘contaminants’ whilst still singling out meth in some instances.

Broadly speaking, the Bill would allow landlords to enter rentals to test for contaminants and if contaminants are present at beyond acceptable levels, the property is to be treated as ‘uninhabitable’ and must be decontaminated. When combined with the existing obligations on landlords to provide premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness, repair and to meet health and safety requirements, it appears there is an onus on landlords to test for meth to ensure they are fulfilling these obligations. Most of the details, including what constitutes acceptable levels of contaminants, are to be set by regulation.

For a  substance to be prescribed as a contaminant, it must be harmful to a person’s health. Methamphetamine has already been written into the Bill as a contaminant. Whilst the prescribed threshold may be set by regulation to reflect Sir Peter’s report, the proposed bill would still require testing to establish whether that higher threshold is met. It is therefore likely, that we will continue to see testing in residential properties for meth, despite this being seen as a waste of money by Sir Peter’s report.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Given Sir Peter’s report, the government should reconsider whether the proposed amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act relating to contaminants are appropriate and if they may lead to continued wasted expenditure by landlords. The government needs to outline clear guidelines setting out what circumstances would require testing which is consistent with Sir Peter’s report, to save the unnecessary cost to landlords, which will inevitably be passed onto tenants.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about this, or other obligations and regulations under the Residential Tenancies Act, contact our experienced property law expert Matthew Whimp on (04) 495 8909 or email Matthew.Whimp@morrisonkent.com



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