P house decision angers tenant

BY BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 13:00 13/08/2010

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A Palmerston North solo mother who unwittingly moved into a house contaminated by methamphetamine is outraged plans to protect people from falling into a similar trap have been dropped by the Government.

It decided there were already enough provisions to protect tenants, so a drug disclosure amendment has been dumped from proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act.

The changes will come into effect on October 1.

If a tenant wants to know if their home is free from methamphetamine contamination, they might have to spend hundreds of dollars for a land information memorandum (LIM) report from their local council.

However, Palmerston North City Council can tell people if a house they are considering renting ever had a cleansing order, which is issued to the home owner if police find a meth lab.

The solo mother, Lisa, who did not want her surname published, said the dumped law change didn't propose enough protection anyway.

She and her three daughters moved into an Awapuni property a year ago, and developed a number of mysterious health ailments, including headaches, rashes, fatigue, swollen and tingling faces and muscle cramps.

She suspected the house might have been used to manufacture meth or that the Class A had been smoked in it on a long-term basis, but proving that was difficult – and costly.

No-one knew who was liable to pay for testing, which costs between $200 to $500.

"The Ministry of Health didn't know who was responsible and the council didn't know and the real estate company didn't know – they all tried to say I was responsible. I feel that there should be guidelines ... because as a tenant you should know who's responsible to pay for it."

Lisa's plight was brought to the attention of the New Zealand Drug Detection Agency, which tested the house for free and found high levels of methamphetamine contamination, consistent with P manufacture.

The family moved out and their symptoms disappeared.

Lisa said most tenants would not be able to afford paying for testing or a LIM report on top of bond, rent in advance and moving costs.

Labour housing spokeswoman Moana Mackey said Lisa's case highlighted gaps in the law but instead of taking steps to fill those gaps, the Government had widened them.

The provision was dropped at the select committee stage and an amended provision putting a time limit on the number of years a cleansing order appeared on a LIM report was also voted down, she said.

Ms Mackey acknowledged the law change would only have been a step in the right direction.

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"You're going to get situations where the landlord didn't know and no one knew but there are still requirements in the law to ensure that a property is safe."

If police discover a clandestine laboratory producing drugs, the council is informed and a cleansing order is issued, which is recorded on the LIM report. The Manawatu Standard discovered last year that without the police bust, there was no clear procedure to follow for testing, cleanup and disclosure.

Anyone can pay $400 to get a LIM report from the city council on any property. But this only discloses what the council knows about the property, and if clandestine P was not discovered, houses can remain contaminated.

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill had its third reading in Parliament at the end of last month.

A spokeswoman for Housing Minister Phil Heatley said the provision requiring landlords to be open about cleansing orders with tenants was dropped because there were already enough legal requirements in place.

She said forcing complete disclosure of this information could see landlords masking signs of drug manufacturing rather then informing relevant authorities and have their properties decontaminated.

- Manawatu Standard

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