Meth Use In Rental Properties

As a real estate professional for more than 26 years, I never imagined in my lifetime I would need to educate myself about methamphetamines in any way shape or form.

On the 24 April 2018, my life as a property manager, licensee and owner of a real estate business changed forever with a ding in my inbox at 2.51pm.  A tenant was informing me her partner was using illegal drugs like Meth in the property.

Initially I wasn’t sure what this meant, I’d seen a Today Tonight program that said a tenant had to move out of a property after her kids got sick and it was discovered the freshly renovated property prior to them taking possession was in fact contaminated with Meth.  I’d also been told by a settlement agent about 6 months prior of a property that couldn’t’ settle due to Meth contamination. REIWA had started having experts address their property management network events to inform us of the risk.

Having composed myself, my first call was to the Owner to seek instructions.  Immediately she wanted the property tested.  This would normally have been problematic with a tenant in possession but on this occasion, we negotiated the test.  This resulted after full testing in a lab to come back in excess of 75mg/100.  The safe reading from WA Health is 0.5mg/100.

As an office we set about learning as much as we could by having testing companies and clean up companies come to talk to staff about what to look for.   Could we have prevented this was my first thought?  The short answer is no.

Meth usages does not have an odour.  This means its not obvious to the eye, the property was clean, well presented, rent paid on time. This home was not your traditional druggy image home, trashed.  The tenants had been in possession of the property for more than 12 months.  In the prior couple of months, he did seem to have changed jobs a few times, but FIFO work at this time was a little unstable, no reason to think it any more than this.

Since this time through education, our property managers have since found two more Meth contaminated properties, one once tested fell below the WA Health safe limit with minimal remediation required.

The third owner however was not as lucky.   $28k for the initial decontamination process.   Once this was complete, we needed to put the house back together, new doors, new paint, new light switches/power points, light fittings, AC, flooring, window treatments etc. An estimate close to $40k in total.  Once again, nothing specific to point to a problem, just a well-trained property manager hunch which turned out to be right.

Our office processes and systems are designed to minimise the risk for our Owners.  However it is naive to believe you can eliminate this 100%.   A part of good management is to ensure our clients are educated.   We have done this with owner information nights.   We also strongly recommend all owners check their current insurance.  Please don’t choose the cheapest, please don’t decide you’ve always been insured with XYZ insurance and you want to remain with them. 

Ask the question, check the policy inclusions and exclusions.   95% of all landlord insurance policies in the market do not cover the usage of methamphetamines.   If you call and ask if your policy covers meth, be specific.  You may find they cover manufacture, but not usage.   For less than a week rent, you can take out a policy that will protect you in the event you find yourself with a contaminated property.

The WA Health Department have a guideline to managing risk

Ultimately the person responsible is the Owner of the property

By Donna Gordin

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