Meth and mould: M&Ms for agents
26 June 2019
Agents of NSW, you’re invited to the M&M show. However, sadly, we don’t mean the internationally renowned (and somewhat controversial) rapper or the delicious bite-sized chocolates. We’re talking about meth and mould. 

Granted it’s not quite as exciting but understanding your responsibilities regarding both is critical as an agent.

There is a lot of fear surrounding meth and mould, so we spoke to two experts to better understand each issue and how to address them.

Not meth-ing around

Two per cent of Australia’s population is using ice – that’s approximately 492,000 people. 

That many people are not doing it on the street, so it must be occurring in their properties. So what do you do if the property they’re smoking (or worse, making) methamphetamine in is one you manage or have been engaged to sell?

Ryan Matthews, Managing Director of Meth Screen, says in Australia the habitable limit for meth residue in a property is 0.5 micrograms per 100cm/square space.*

“Properties with contamination levels of 0.5 micrograms per 100cm/square space or more are deemed unacceptable and, therefore, need to be remediated to bring them back under the level,” he says. 

“Taking a risk management approach and adopting regular testing is the only viable solution to generate grounds to move drug users out of a property and seek damages if the tenants are found to be responsible for the contamination. People work hard to own property and those assets shouldn’t be compromised by someone with a drug habit.”

Matthews believes more guidance from government and health officials regarding meth contamination in properties is required.

“A lot of the time agents and agencies try to do the right thing in seeking testing and decontamination, but in doing so, sometimes leave themselves liable to legal action due to a risk that was not known prior,” he says.

“Agents are finding historical contamination and this can upset landlords because they likely do not have the appropriate insurances to deal with the contamination.”
 
Matthews says it is interesting to note that in New Zealand and Colorado the habitable limit for meth residue is 1.5 micrograms per 100cm/square space. 

“New Zealand and Colorado have the highest level for meth contamination globally and the New Zealand Government wants to increase this even further,” he says.

“To me, this decision seems political, not health-based, as many governments are softening their approach to drugs and drug use, which inadvertently spills across into the conversation around the safety level for contamination caused from drug residue in properties.” 
 
When asked if a registry would help protect consumer safety – as per the combustible cladding register – Matthews agrees, but understands it would impact property values.

“Before further action is taken on this issue robust research is required to more accurately determine what constitutes habitable and harmful contamination levels,” he says. 

“We have research now in Australia that clearly tells us children and adults can be affected by meth residue, but we need to look at this issue in more detail and formulate tighter controls for drug contamination in properties.
 
“Young children are especially affected developmentally and in their learning when exposed to residues from not just manufacture of ice, but also the build up of residue from smoking. People try to brush it off and say it's only meth labs but leading toxicologists from the United States have said low doses over long periods of time would negatively affect young children.”

Matthews says until further research occurs and results are available, agents should be aware of the signs of meth use or cooking.

“Agents should be aware of chemical or ammonia smells when entering a property and stains that can’t be cleaned off,” he says. 

“Missing lightbulbs is another sign, as they are used to smoke meth. As are chemical burns on vanities, tiles and sinks. Burn marks on lawns could be an indication that someone at the property is cooking meth.” 

In 2018, REINSW wrote to the Australian Chief Scientist regarding this issue. It has since been passed to the Chief Medical Officer and NSW Health.

Breaking the mould

As the weather cools down, tenants start to turn their heaters up. This leads to condensation in their homes, creating the perfect environment for mould. The actions (or reactions) to the condensation and mould are often incorrect, meaning tenants are unknowingly increasing the damp in their homes. 

“The mould removal industry is growing based on fear,” says Stephen Burke, Managing Director of Mould Removal Australia. “Mould can appear in every house and there are no approved testing standards to tell you whether it's toxic or not.”

Burke says it's important to focus on addressing the cause of the mould and establish preventative measures, rather than focus on the mould itself.

“If it’s a leak fix it. If it’s condensation open a window and find out what's causing it,” he says. “So many people use devices to extract the damp without addressing where the damp is coming from. This means they often end up with a bucket of water in the corner of their cupboard driving the growth of more mould.”

Burke says if a tenant advises an agent of mould, the agent should act to have the property inspected to determine the cause rather than to offer suggestions that may make the situation worse.

“The presence of mould is either a hygiene or lifestyle issue, which is usually easily resolved, or an indication of a larger issue, like a leak,” he says. “The sooner you understand the cause, the quicker, simpler and cheaper you can solve the problem.

“Educating tenants about the causes of condensation and correct ventilation, and ensuring landlords adequately maintain the property will – in most cases – prevent mould appearing in the first place.”
 
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* Based on current guidelines set by the crime commission.