New home buyers face hidden risk of moving in with methamphetamine

Cheap initial swab testing of homes often cannot differentiate between whether methamphetamine was smoked or cooked in ...

Cheap initial swab testing of homes often cannot differentiate between whether methamphetamine was smoked or cooked in the property.

New home buyers may be moving in to houses with hidden poisons because regulations have fallen behind the drug trade.

Upper Hutt resident Ayla Yule, 25, and her husband backed out of buying a home in Timberlea after basic swab tests revealed traces of methamphetamine.

Long term health effects can include chronic fatigue, diseases of the central nervous system, strokes and cancer.

The Yule family, who have a two-year-old daughter, were not warned the recently-renovated property had a criminal history until a mother-in-law smelt a rat and paid for professional testing.

A positive result revealed 0.27 micrograms per 100sq cm, about half the Ministry of Health guidelines levels for acceptable contamination.

The owners of the three-bedroom property - which had a new kitchen, bathroom and paint-job that may have masked chemicals in the walls - subsequently dropped their price by about $15,000 from a bare entry offer of $269,000.

"We were looking for our first home, and this one just seemed too good to be true," Yule said.

The family put the standard conditions of a builder's report and LIM report on their sale and purchase agreement but, like most Kiwis, they did not add on a drug test.

However, her lawyer advised that a positive test may have cancelled the contract anyway.

Typical swabbing by specialists costs about $100 to $500 to detect meth on materials and contents.

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Further lab tests reporting on atmospheric levels would have cost about $2,000.

"My first priority was my daughter... If the builder's report came back and said there was a fault or leak, well that would be less concerning than a positive meth test," Yule said.

Short term effects of the chemicals include breathing difficulties, skin rashes and eye irritations.

The long-term effects of the chemicals produced from cooking meth, that can include strokes and cancer, are typically only known once those exposed start suffering unusual health problems.

Yule said that after she backed out of the sale, a friend visited an open home and the agent was quick to warn that the house had tested positive.

Fairfax Media visited the home, but attempts to contact the residents went unanswered.

Home Check building inspector Grant Bennett said typical builder's reports did not include taking samples for meth as that requires professional training and lab testing.

There was talk of teaming up with testing firms, if there was enough demand, to train inspectors to take samples and supply them to a lab.

The previous owner, who the paper agreed it was not necessary to name, said being told someone had contaminated her property with meth was a "horrible thing to go through" and she "didn't wish it on anyone".

"People need to be aware of it, but I don't want to put any of my stuff out there."

Cleanup costs for an average three-bedroom house typically start from around $4,000. That is just if someone had been using P. If the property was used to manufacture P then the cleanup cost involved is about $40,000.

In bad cases the house may need to be demolished.

Police need to tell local councils of any meth activity so the council can issue a Cleansing Order and put the details permanently on the property's LIM report.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand chief executive officer Colleen Milne said agents are taught to look for suspicious signs and suggest testing to owners.

They are also told to recommend buyers to get independent expert advice.

There is no obligation on landlords to test their property and, while landlords must decontaminate it before it is re-tenanted under the Residential Tenancies Act, their duty does not extend to disclosing its history to prospective tenants unless asked.

 - Stuff

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