Ex-meth house turns into renovation nightmare

KELLY DENNETT
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2014
Kevin Middleton
GUTTED: Kevin Middleton and wife Liz have spent $25,000 decontaminating their Titirangi home.

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Devastated homeowners Kevin and Liz Middleton are $25,000 out of pocket after decontaminating their west Auckland home which was once used as a p-lab.

They bought the Titirangi house as a "doer upper"  but their DIY dream quickly turned into a nightmare after the home tested positive for methamphetamine contamination.

They'd been living in it for nine months with their nine-year-old daughter and had to throw out most of their belongings and completely gut the building's interior.

Insurance will cover some contents but not the $25,000 decontamination bill.

It's a hard lesson for the couple who paid for a building inspection but in hindsight realise they should have tested for methamphetamine too.

"We completely didn't think about it," Kevin Middleton says.

"I'm happy to say maybe we should have been smarter."

Middleton hopes their story will serve as a warning to others.

He believes methamphetamine testing should be mandatory for all properties.

"It doesn't have to be a rental, there's been some very nice houses that have had exactly the same issues."

The test was suggested by a neighbour but Middleton initially disregarded the idea.

Then he read about Tauranga toddler Alicia Steenson whose parents believe their daughter's leukaemia was the result of living in a contaminated house.

"I started thinking about my daughter," Middleton says.

There were no obvious signs the property was contaminated but Middleton had a persistent dry cough and the master bedroom had an occasional perfume-like scent.

Tests registered contamination in that room higher than any other bedroom.

Middleton says there's a lack of information available about the long term health effects but says they're "getting on with life".

It could have been worse, he says.

"I would rather have gone through hell for two to three months than live in contamination and get sick."

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand chief executive Helen O'Sullivan says contamination is hard to spot and the code of conduct doesn't obligate agents to search out hidden defects.

"You don't need to run in with your magnifying glass for every property."

However suspicious testimony from neighbours "should raise the antenna of an experienced agent", she says.

O'Sullivan says the industry needs some kind of regulation to prevent bogus testing from non-professionals but doesn't believe testing shouldn't be compulsory.

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"I don't think people should all leap to their feet and get their homes tested but at the same time if I was buying a new property I would do my due diligence." 

- Western Leader

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