P houses - Protect yourself before you buy

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Auckland Conveyancing LawyerSo, you read the newspapers and watch the news. Are “P” or “meth” houses the new leaky building?  Is the hype all it’s “cracked” up to be?  How serious is the issue and what can you do to protect yourself before purchasing the property?

What is P or  Meth?
Methamphetamine is a potentially addictive Class A drug and is more commonly known in New Zealand as “meth” or “P” (short for “pure”) . 

When meth is smoked and/or cooked in a house, the residue chemicals of that cooking process will  leech into the surfaces in the house and will remain even after any related activity in the house has stopped, causing potentially serious illness to the occupants of the house.

How can Meth be detected in houses?
There are a variety of companies who carry out tests to detect whether the house may have been used for smoking and/or cooking meth.  The costs of carrying out tests range upwards from about $350.00.

If the house shows an initial positive reading for meth then more scientific tests can be carried out, but at a greater cost.

What can you do when you are looking at purchasing a property to ensure the house you are about to purchase isn’t a “P” house and contaminated?
Although owners and agents may not know the history or the current use of the property (especially when it is tenanted), if you ask the questions, then they need to give honest answers.  If it is found out later that they were not telling the truth then they can be liable for misrepresentation.

We recommend you make as many enquiries of as many different people as you can and suggest the following: 

  • Neighbours – ask the neighbours whether there has been any unsual activity at the house, police visits, people coming and going at odd times and so forth;
  • Police – visit the local police station and ask whether the house has been visited;
  • Council – Councils can note on the LIM report if the house is contaminated but they are not legally required to;
  • The owner – you should ask the owner directly whether they know if the house has been used to manufacture meth. If the house has been rented, ask whether they have had any problem with the tenants, if there has been damage to the property, whether the tenants have been late in paying rent and/or abandoned the property;
  • The real estate agent – if the property is being marketed through an agent then the same questions you would ask of the owner, should be asked of the agent. Make sure you ask both.
  • Remember, if you are looking at purchasing a property and are asking the vendor and/or the agent these sorts of questions, then you should do so in writing and ask that they respond in writing.  If you are dealing with an agent, it would be best to request the agent put the questions to the owner in writing and have the owner respond in writing.

    Ideally you should make all of these enquiries before you enter into an agreement to purchase a property.  An alternative would be for a condition to be put into the agreement which would make the agreement subject to you being able to carry out any investigations and tests and the results of which are satisfactory to you, by a certain date.  You would also need to ensure the vendor would consent to any “invasive” testing that may be required.

    If you have purchased a property without doing any due diligence in regards to meth then there is nothing you can do later if it turns out that the property is contaminated.  You will have no recourse against the agent or the vendor unless they have misrepresented anything to you.

    If it is found that the house is contaminated what can you do - is there such a thing as “de-contamination”?
    If you suspect the house you have bought, or live in, is contaminated then it can potentially be decontaminated, but it comes at a cost which could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.  Even after decontamination, there can still be residual affects.

    If you wish to know more about due diligence investigations and/or conditions for your sale and purchase agreement please contact Wade Hansen by phone on 09 837 6885 or email
    wade.hansen@smithpartners.co.nz
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