What are your tenants really up to? – Garth Brown

A story today that might send chills through property investors. There is an emerging problem that has been unrecognized in Australia – and that is the increase in methamphetamine poising in properties though the use and manufacture of meth in residential properties.  The costs can be horrendous and, by default, will have to be borne by the property owner. We look into this with Garth Brown from Brown and Brown Conveyancers.


Kevin:  This story is probably going to alarm many property owners, especially if you have tenants in your property because it’s an emerging problem: meth labs in units or houses that are being rented out.
Let’s have a look at this situation, because there are precedents around the world where this could be happening. I think in Australia, we tend to have maybe just turned the other way and thought that it’s not so much of a problem, but it is an emerging problem. We’re going to talk about it with Garth Brown, who is a conveyancer from Brown & Brown.
Garth, firstly tell me, how broad is this problem?
Garth:  It’s actually a huge problem in Australia. Per head of population, Australia is one of the highest meth users in the English-speaking world. 2.1% of the Australian population has been reported to be using crystal meth or ice.
Kevin:  These are the users, but what we’re talking about is the production where someone sets up a meth lab. They may be using it for themselves, but it’s more what it does to the building. Could you just tell us what the dangers are there?
Garth:  Yes. These meth labs produce these strong, toxic fumes that get into the plasterboard and they get the floorboards. What happens is it slowly start to emit itself and causes health problems to people who are living in rental accommodation or who have bought a new home.
Kevin:  Are there any outward signs? Would you know if you walked into one of these? Would it be the smell, or would it be the discoloration of the paint?
Garth:  No. The only way you can find out is basically by doing a meth test.
Kevin:  Okay. How do we do that?
Garth:  There are particular people that specialize in testing for meth contamination. They’re able to take samples from the floor and the walls, analyze the air, and things like that.
Kevin:  I guess we’d find out about those fairly easily. I imagine this would be a big problem for property managers, too. I’m just doing a little bit of reading about this and reading your blog article.
By the way, Garth, I first heard about this from New Zealand. They’ve been on top of this for almost a decade because I remember being there about ten years ago, and they were doing it then.
Just reading straight out of your blog article, 50% of all New Zealand government rentals that have been tested for contamination have returned a positive result. That’s a phenomenal number of properties. Close to 400 New Zealand government rental properties are actually tagged as uninhabitable due to meth contamination.
Is it an even bigger problem in Australia and we don’t even know about it?
Garth:  That’s right. It’s not a well-known problem, but it’s a real sleeping giant. As I said, 2.1% of Australia’s population is involved with using crystal meth or ice as a user.
Kevin:  Then who is responsible for making sure that the premises are clean? I’m talking now about investors who have a property. Is it their responsibility?
Garth:  Yes, it is a landlord’s responsibility to do that. And if a property is affected by this meth in the woodwork and in the floorboards, the only way you can really get rid of it is to rip it out.
Kevin:  Goodness. The costs of this are horrendous. You’re better off finding out while the tenants are in there. Thinking this process through, if I have tenants in my property, if they are in fact doing this, I find out, I report it to the police, and they are arrested, would my insurance cover this? Do you know? That’s probably a question you can’t answer.
Garth:  It’s a bit of a gray area. They could or they couldn’t. There are some preventions in place. I notice on a website here – IPSMAustralia.com.au – this particular company can put a monitor in the house, and it alerts your smartphone or your iPhone when it starts to detect these odorless fumes coming from a meth lab or someone who’s using meth in the house.
Kevin:  Could you give me that website again, please?
Garth:  That’s IPSMAustralia.com.au.
Kevin:  Does it tell you there what the cost of that is?
Garth:  It doesn’t, but it gives you a number to talk to them. It’s known as the Ice Breaker.
Kevin:  That’s appropriately named. Garth, thanks for telling us about this. It is an emerging problem. It’s one that we need to be aware of, not only as landlords and investors but certainly as tenants moving into a property – I’d want to know that my kids are going to be safe moving in there – and rental managers, as well.
Garth:  Some of those health issues are breathing problems, behavior problems, sleep pattern changes, and eye and skin irritation. This is from previously using the property as a meth lab or people using ice in the house.
Kevin:  Wow. Yes, I can see what the problem is. Garth, thank you very much for your time and for sharing that information with us.
Garth:  My pleasure. Thanks, Kevin.

2 thoughts on “What are your tenants really up to? – Garth Brown

  1. Hi Kevin & Garth, this is a very topical subject in real estate and property management at the moment. In fact, I’ve been in discussion with several large property management companies in SE Queensland about how to tackle the tricky issue of tenants using or cooking meth in their client’s properties.
    Firstly, yes there are tell-tale signs of meth use but this is worst case scenario stuff. In most cases there are no signs and since a landlord has to give notice of an inspection, the tenant has time to do a clean up if there is any obvious mess.
    Secondly, the device you mention from IPSM will detect meth if it’s being used but what about if the contamination is already there from previous tenants or before installing such a device. In fact, how would you know if a property is contaminated before you committed to buying it?
    Surface drug testing is one of the answers. Previously, expensive lab testing was required and once done, you had to wait a week for results. And a simple test costs over $200.
    At Narcotect, we have inexpensive surface kits for less than $20. You’ll need 3 or 4 per average house but they’ll give you a good indication of whether drug residue is present and you get the result in seconds.
    The other unique feature of our product is that it not only detects meth but also other illegal drugs including ice, cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and opiates, as well as several of the pre-cursor ingredients used in the manufacture of meth. More details can be found on our website drugdetectionkits.com.au
    If a landlord isn’t testing at the start and end of a tenancy at the very least, they open themselves up to a world of cost and heartache. Ideally, random testing should also be conducted throughout the tenancy as a further deterrent to using drugs in the house.
    Garth, perhaps, as someone who specialises in property conveyancing, it would be worthwhile recommending clients’ conduct a surface drug test on a property as part of their pre-purchase due diligence.
    I hope that this is of use to your readers. Please feel free to contact me if you would like any further information.

    1. Kevin Turner says:

      Thank you Martin. That is really good advice. I appreciate the feedback. I will be in touch. Kevin

Leave a Reply