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Stop! Don’t buy that house until you’re sure it hasn’t been a P lab.


Move over leaky building syndrome – P labs have become the latest challenge for home buyers and renters.

P Labs home dangers Police have busted well over 500 P labs in the past four years, but it is estimated that only 1 in 4 are ever discovered and illicit methamphetamine manufacturers are constantly shifting the locations of their labs in order to avoid detection. So the chances that the dwelling you’re looking to buy or rent was once a P lab are not insignificant.

And don’t think that just because you can afford a place in an upmarket suburb that there’s less risk – P labs have been busted in Auckland’s St Heliers and even a multi-million-dollar CBD apartment. One was even discovered on a boat.

The main issues with P lab risk are that P labs’ toxic effects linger on long after the labs are closed down and that the government and local councils continue to bury their heads in the sand on the methamphetamine contamination issue, just as they did with asbestos in the 1970s and the leaky building syndrome in the 1990s. 

As a result, there is little protection for home buyers and renters. When the police bust a P lab, they call in the Environmental Science and Research (ESR) forensic team and alert the local council. The council can order the property to be tested and make a Cleansing Order under section 41 of the Health Act 1956, but not all councils do this.

To make matters worse, because there is no national standard for P lab decontamination and the cost of professional decontamination can be horrendous – anywhere between $5000 and $35,000 – many landlords attempt to do the clean up themselves, and may put the property on the market in an attempt to avoid future liability.

P Lab home buyers beware

Some councils note former P labs on their LIM (Land Information Memorandum) reports, but again, there is no legal requirement to do so. The Ministry of Health has been working on P lab decontamination guidelines for years, but their release has been delayed.

“There needs to be more robust protocols,” said Mike Sabin, a former police detective and founder of drug education group MethCon, in a recent NZ Herald article.

With the onus being on home buyers and renters to protect themselves, how do you spot a dwelling that’s been a P lab?

“Often it's a rental accommodation or used to be a rental accommodation,” said Sabin. “Often you find there's been paint work done in the laundry and there are brown spots leaching back out of the paint work. They are classic signs of people doing a clean-up and on-selling the house or re-tenanting it.”

Nick McLeay of the New Zealand Drug Detection Agency recommends getting any dwelling tested before you buy or rent it. Click to go to NZDDA

“People are just being cautious. They're saying, ‘Look I'm buying this house, it’s the most substantial thing I'm going to buy’, so they're tagging it on along with the other tests they are routinely doing like water tightness and structural tests.”

Since 2008, the NZDDA has tested hundreds of New Zealand homes and found that in 33% of cases test results have been positive.

What can you do if you already own a P-contaminated property or are considering buying one? There are several specialist decontamination companies around, although it would pay to choose one which follows international standards as there are no New Zealand standards.

Where interior lining replacement or other renovation is required as part of the decontamination process, Fix It Building Services works with the cleaning companies to provide the complete solution.


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