Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Frank Newman: P labs a problem for landlords and home buyers

I have written about the P Lab problem a couple of times over the last few years. The first time was when the discovery of P Labs was fairly rare. Today the police are finding a new lab every 45 hours, and about two-thirds of these are operated from rented accommodation. It is such a problem nowadays that it can no longer be ignored. In my view landlords and property managers need to consider incorporating methamphetamine checks into their property management regime.

Meth contamination is a serious risk to those living in a contaminated building, especially children. According to some reports the short-term health problems range from migraines, nausea, respiratory difficulties, and skin irritations. Long-term problems may include cancer. 
Unfortunately the presence of a P lab is usually not obvious – it is after all a clandestine activity, so don’t expect a “Warning: P Lab” sign at the front door. The “signs” to look for are:  
  • Unusual smells, particularly solvents such as paint thinners and nail polish remover.
  • Stained glass equipment and cookware.
  • Windows blackened out or curtains always drawn.
  • Plastic or glass containers fitted with glass or rubber tubing (not to be confused with home brew!).
  • Portable gas tanks or other cylinders.
  • Chemical stains around household kitchen sink, laundry, toilet or storm water drains.
  • Yellow/brown staining of interior floor, walls, ceiling, and appliance surfaces.
  • Expensive security and surveillance gear set up around the property.
  • Rent paid in cash!
Tests kits are readily available online (have a look on Trademe) and are relatively inexpensive. According to the owner of buying the test kit refills is the most economical way to go, costing $130 plus GST. A kit has 10 swabs.

The number of swabs one needs to take per test is debatable, but four sample points in a house would appear to be reasonable (total cost therefore $52). The most likely areas to sample are the kitchen, bedrooms and hallway.

Some contamination removal firms also carry out tests. In my view this is a clear conflict of interest and should be avoided, especially given the test kits are so readily available.

In terms of when to test I would suggest:
  • The first test to be done at the start of a tenancy, or at the next inspection of an existing tenancy. Test with the tenant present so the tenant knows regular testing will be done and there is no disputing the results, which should be noted in the inspection report.
  • Each sample should swipe one wall or surface per swab. Using one swab to do multiple swipes is likely to produce an exaggerated result.
  • Test during the regular (quarterly) property inspection where contamination is suspected (have the tell-tale signs listed above on your checklist).
  • Test during the final inspection of the tenancy, again in the presence of the tenant. Photograph the swab results, and provide copies to the incoming occupants/tenants.
So, what if the tests show contamination. Are you covered by insurance? Maybe. It will depend on the wording of your insurance policy. Most policies should include an “unlawful substances” clause, but it is conditional on the property manager complying with the “landlord obligations” stated in the policy. Those obligations are likely to include:
  • Exercising reasonable care in the selection of tenants by obtaining satisfactory written or verbal references, and
  • Undertaking an internal and external inspection of the property at least once every four months and whenever there is a change of tenancy, and
  • Keeping a written record of each inspection.
If you don’t meet those obligations a claim is likely to be declined. Please check the fine print in your Home Insurance Policy to see if you are covered, or give your broker a call.

This yet again shows the importance of managing your property professionally, or having a professional manage it for you if you do not have the time or know-how to do it properly yourself.

If you are having your rental investment(s) managed by a professional ask them:
  • What they do to manage the Meth risk for your property,
  • Whether they test for the presence of Meth,
  • Do they inspect the property at least once every four months, and
  • Whether their check-list includes looking for signs that the property may be used for baking of the illegal kind.
Frank Newman is the principal of Newman Property Consultancy. He is the author of numerous books on investment matters. 


Unknown said...

It is a bad problem and will not be solved while wages are not enough to live on. The cost of living in NZ is now as high as Europe but workers are not being paid anywhere near European wages and conditions to pay these costs.
Excessive profit by greedy businessmen is the cause of this cost of living increase. This equals people looking for alternative sources of income to live on equals people risking running a P lab.
Of course the governments drugs and economic policy's are at the bottom of this. While some dangerous drugs are still illegal the authorities can have no control over them. Criminals control them and will continue to do so while the current Govt policies persist. Most of these drugs are cheap to produce and if addicts need them they can be supplied at minimal cost under properly healthy controlled conditioned and the addicts counseled for their problem there by taking the criminal out of the equation and the crime associated with addiction. Just common sense.
In the case of the plants that nature provides for humans to get them high----they are outlawed. The rejection of the natural option is clearly human madness. Why else has evolution made these plants psychoactive if they are not meant for our use as we are the only species on the planet that can appreciate them. Their effect on the health of a human body is minimal. We all know the detrimental health effects of the sanctioned man made option, alcohol.
This policy on natural products is the repression of the most basic of human rights. The principle that no other human being has the right to restrict you from taking what nature provides. With the exception of endangers species and such concerns about the viability of the survival of a species due to human over consumption. Stop making nature illegal, which is patently crazy, and a lot of this P problem would disappear.
As usual this is all down to ball less party politicians. Vote for decent rational independents, with these views, as most parties have done nothing to protect this right up till now and there is little indication they will do so in the future. The green party is the only party with a policy for the decriminalization of these plants who by the way, as plants, can obviously have no criminal intent. Vote for common sense this year.

Anonymous said...

What is needed is a register of people who should never be allowed to rent accommodation in New Zealand. This would include any person convicted of dealing in drugs, any person found to have processed drugs in rental accommodation, any person who is responsible for wilfully damaging rental accommodation, and any person who has avoided paying rent by doing a runner. The problem is of course, that many criminals use a number of aliases. I used to work in the prison system, and when inmates' records were first recorded on the departmental computer, I was given the task of extracting all relevant information from their files. I found that a large number of inmates had up to ten aliases. I don't know whether they were used to claim benefits, as it was not my business to ask. But I believe that a register of prohibited tenants would help reduce the numbers of rental homes being used for the manufacture of drugs. If some people scream that they would be disadvantaged and homeless, they would have only themselves to blame. And I have a question for Peter Caulton. What planet do you think you're on?

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe that someone cooking “P” in a building or dwelling can warrant a demolition order. The building could be constructed of tantalised timber and asbestos based materials, those dangers seem to be overcome. I also find it amusing that none of the high rent apartments require demolition after a “P” lab has been discovered such in the case in Wellington recently.