P-free label for housing backed

Encouraging sellers and landlords to advertise houses as "meth-free" is being touted as a way to combat the increasing number of P house discoveries in Manawatu.

Since starting in 2011, the Palmerston North branch of Drug Testing Services has tested 41 houses suspected of containing traces of the class A drug methamphetamine, with 21 of them - more than half - coming back with levels of meth exceeding guidelines for healthy living.

Manager of Drug Testing Services Rick Lewer said research suggested that up to 3 per cent of housing in New Zealand could be contaminated.

"There are still a few people out there who will say this is a conspiracy theory, that there's not a health risk, that we're just a money-making scheme.

"The reality is that P houses are everywhere."

Property Brokers rental division manager David Faulkner is proposing a "meth-free" label on all advertised houses and rental properties as a way to combat an issue he says is starting to hurt landlords and tenants.

"There have been a few managed properties that have come back with positive results in Palmerston North this year alone, which is devastating for them," Mr Faulkner said.

"The cost of cleaning it can be as much as $30,000. You've got to strip the building and basically rebuild it."

This did not take into account a loss of rent, emotional damage, furniture replacement and the potential risks to health, Mr Faulkner said.

In 2010 the Manawatu Standard reported on the case of a Palmerston North solo mother who unwittingly moved into a P house in Awapuni.

She and her three daughters developed a number of mysterious ailments, including headaches, rashes, fatigue, swollen and tingling faces and muscle cramps before tests confirmed the contamination and they moved out.

"Manawatu is over-represented in terms of P houses," Mr Faulkner said.

"I've seen it first hand, so we've got to do something about it.

"Some landlords bury their heads in the sand and pretend not to know.

"They may not want to know that they have meth in their house but they have to know."

Testing for meth with private companies was getting cheaper, Mr Faulkner said. "For prospective landlords, what I would suggest is to make a test part of the sale and purchase agreement, because once you've bought it, there's nothing you can do.

"Then you can put a label on it saying it's meth-free and if tenants know the houses are going to be regularly tested, then the people that choose to cook aren't going to go to those properties. It's a way of forcing them out."

Manawatu Tenants Union spokesman Kevin Reilly said it was pleasing to hear a representative for landlords had broached a "meth-free" label.

"I would support any move that encouraged or even forced landlords to tell the mother and child that the house they're moving into is meth-free. It's especially crucial in a university town like Palmerston North, because with the transient lifestyle of the students, there's a lot more of an opportunity for it to happen. Not only that, but the mums and dads of the students want their children to be safe."

Mr Lewer said rentals were consistently the most used properties for cooking meth, because police found it harder to prosecute tenants after they had moved out.

"What usually happens is that once the drug fraternity is gone from the house, all potential evidence is gone, too."

Mr Lewer said there was a case going through the Tenancy Tribunal in Palmerston North where a landlord was attempting to get costs back from a previous tenant after they had allegedly used or cooked meth in the house.

Manawatu Standard