Real Estate Drug Testing

There are renewed calls for landlords to test for the residue of a potent drug inside their properties after a New South Wales tenant became ill and was forced to abandon her possessions.

Veronica Rawlinson had been experiencing poor health for several months before requesting the four-bedroom home she was leasing in Nowra be swabbed for traces of methamphetamine, or the drug ice.

“My energy was really low and then I broke out in a skin rash on my shoulder and my arm,” Ms Rawlinson said.

“My doctor did biopsies and it all came back inconclusive, so I contacted a company that does meth testing and the house came back positive.

 

“Everything changed after that, I left the property with two cats and a handbag because all of my belongings were contaminated and now have to be triple wrapped in plastic and buried in the ground at the tip,” Ms Rawlinson said.

Ms Rawlinson said she is now pursuing compensation through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

“We’ve been in the tribunal three times now and haven’t had any sort of final solution because the law isn’t up to date,” Ms Rawlinson said.

Key points:

  • NSW renter says she fell ill, had to discard her possessions due to ice contamination
  • Detection firm says scores of properties in the area tested positive for ice residue
  • Real estate industry “aware of problem”, but wary of mandatory tests

Scores of positive tests By Ainslie Drewitt-Smith and Fairlie Hamilton

According to Megan Liddicoat from Meth Detection Australia, every property the company has swabbed on the South Coast has tested positive for residue from the drug ice.

“I haven’t actually tested something in the South Coast area that isn’t positive,” Ms Liddicoat said.

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Photo: Residue from methamphetamines can stick to surfaces and soft furnishings. (ABC: Four Corners)

“That’s 40 homes that have tested positive.”

A test costs around $250 and is conducted similarly to a litmus test, where a surface is swabbed to reveal whether traces of the chemical are present before a larger sample is sent to a lab for testing.

“I only started this business because I live locally, my family live locally and I’m going to have grandchildren living locally,” Ms Liddicoat said.

“I don’t think landlords know about the risk that they’ve got, they don’t understand, or it’s not been explained to them.

“I don’t want my family to suffer the effects of this.”

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Serious health consequences

Dr Jackie Wright, an Adjunct Researcher at Flinders University, has been studying the impacts and risks of second-hand exposure to methamphetamine.

“From both manufacture and use, those drug residues deposit and stick to all of the hard surfaces in the property,” Dr Wright said.

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Photo: Dr Jackie Wright has been studying the impacts and risks of second-hand exposure to methamphetamine. (Supplied: Jackie Wright)

“But they also penetrate all the soft things, so furnishings, carpets and curtains.

“The residue then hangs around for years which means we can actually come into contact with them and absorb that drug into our body.”

Dr Wright said the drug can have serious consequences on health and can alter behaviour in children.

“So whenever you’re in the house, you’re exposed and it’s getting in your body,” she said.

“What we’re seeing is effects such as headaches, persistent coughs, increased susceptibility to coughs, colds and infections, eye irritations, skin rashes, trouble sleeping for kids, and vivid dreams.

“We also find some of the kids have behavioural changes, they’re inattentive or some kids become more aggressive in those particular properties.”

Industry seeks guidance, backs away from mandatory tests

Industry representatives are acknowledging the issue but backing away from advocating for mandatory screening of rental properties.

“I think before we go down that path we have to actually understand if it does pose a genuine risk,” NSW Real Estate Institute CEO Tim McKibbin said.

“We are aware that methamphetamine is a problem within properties but what we don’t know is the extent of the problem.”

What does ice do to your body?

Ice has been called the most destructive drug of our time. But what exactly does it do your body? ABC Health & Wellbeing investigates.

Mr McKibbin likened the issue to asbestos and called for government assistance in providing guidance around best practice when residue from methamphetamine was detected inside a property.

“This is another example of where government is not prepared to give any genuine assistance to real estate agents who have the problem of trying to determine a substance or an activity is posing a danger,” Mr McKibbin said.

“We’ve sought research out of New Zealand, we’ve written to the Chief Scientist in Australia and we’ve written to the Chief Medical Officer and the request has now gone off to a committee.

“It’s a pass the parcel exercise where no body wants to take ownership of it, nobody wants to give guidance on it because it could be the case that they would then have to accept some sort of liability for it.”

According to a report released by New Zealand’s Chief Scientist passive, third-hand exposure to the drug ice can arise through residing in a dwelling previously used as a lab or where a significant amount of the drug has been smoked.

The report concluded that there was no published data relating to the health risks of living in a house where methamphetamine had previously only been smoked.

The document recommended that screening for the drug be considered where meth lab activity or very heavy use was suspected.

Mandatory meth testing on the cards for WA rental homes in Australian first

ABC Goldfields

By Isabel Moussalli and Ivo Silva

Posted 6 Feb 2019, 6:29am

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Photo: Testing would show if a property was used as a former drug lab or contaminated by use. (Supplied: NSW Police, file photo)

Western Australia’s ice epidemic could impact homeowners with the State Government set to consider mandatory testing for methamphetamine contamination in rental properties.

The move to test if houses have been used as drug labs, or had residue from meth use, would be an Australian first, according to the Real Estate Institute of Australia.

Compulsory testing will be raised in a review of the Residential Tenancies Act, with a consultation paper expected to be released in coming months.

Any legislative reform is likely to take two years, if introduced.

Consumer Protection WA property industries director Phil Payne said that under the current industry code of conduct, sellers and property managers must disclose “if there is knowledge of prior meth activity” in the residence.

“However, if there is no prior knowledge then there is no basis for a property owner or real estate agent to have the property tested,” Mr Payne said.

Meth Tests Australia director David Bryce said his company began inspecting Perth properties three years ago to determine if they were former drug labs or had contamination from meth use.

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Photo: Meth Tests Australia encourages property inspectors to conduct testing, which costs about $150 for an average home. (Supplied: Meth Tests Australia)

He charges about $100 to conduct testing in a small house, and about $150 for a typical four-bedroom home.

“From the evidence we’ve seen with rental properties, there’s no way people should be expected to go into a home that hasn’t been tested,” Mr Bryce said.

“Families have had younger children moved into a rental home which hasn’t been tested and their children have become affected.”

Mr Bryce also urged WA to introduce mandatory testing to protect landlords from clean-up costs.

He said he had seen damage bills of more than $100,000 for some properties.

“You need to know, before the tenant goes in, that there’s no contamination, and then when the tenancy is finished test it again to make sure the tenant is liable for the costs,” he said.