27 Oct 2016

'Kick in the guts' for tenants evicted for P contamination

9:19 pm on 27 October 2016

Tenants who feel they were wrongly kicked out of their homes because of methamphetamine contamination will find it hard to fight Housing New Zealand, an advocacy group says.

State houses in Northcote

Getting back into a state house after being kicked out for drug contamination will be difficult, advocates say. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

It has been revealed Housing New Zealand ignored repeated warnings from senior government officials about the use of meth guidelines.

The Ministry of Health said the guidelines were to be applied only for the clean-up of former meth labs, and were not intended to monitor homes where the drug had been smoked.

Despite that, Housing New Zealand continued to use the guidelines to evict people, often after only tiny traces of methamphetamine were detected.

The ministry has now made new recommendations saying meth must be found at three to four times higher than the level currently being used.

Beneficiary advocate Kay Brereton said most of the tenants tossed out would have been left in dire situations.

"It's a real kick in the guts and if Housing New Zealand has kicked you out, what chances have you got of finding a private rental in today's market? So these people end up homeless.

"It puts them in a place where it's very hard to fight your way back out of that hole, especially if you've got a label attached that you P-contaminated a house," she said.

It was concerning to think people could have been wrongly blacklisted from Housing New Zealand, Ms Brereton said.

But those evictions were very hard to fight, she said.

"I don't think that there's huge amounts of knowledge in the community about how to review a Housing New Zealand decision and how to fight an eviction. As well as [that], the people that we're talking about are often in quite vulnerable positions themselves.

"So maybe they have their own health issues, their own stress or anxiety, that just makes it all too hard to battle."

Property lawyer and Auckland Law Society vice president Joanna Pidgeon said Housing New Zealand should step up and proactively review each case.

"Fundamentally tenants of course do have a responsibility to look after the properties they are in. But Housing New Zealand does have a wider social good role as well, and there needs to be a balance.

"And to date, it seems the balance has been in the wrong direction," she said.

Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said the situation now required action at a ministerial level.

"The [responsible] minister must take responsibility for this fiasco: $22 million in taxpayers' money has been wasted, hundreds of state house tenants have been unnecessarily evicted," he said.

Housing New Zealand reacts

Housing New Zealand said it had not misused the Ministry of Health's guidelines or received any advice that it had been.

And it said the guidelines were "not linked in any way" to actions it had taken against tenants.

The ending of any tenancy agreement was due to the fact consuming or manufacturing methamphetamine was an illegal activity, which was a clear breach of that agreement and not linked to the level of contamination, the agency said.

In August, RNZ reported on two Tenancy Tribunal decisions related to meth testing that had gone against the agency.

In one case where low levels of meth were detected, the tribunal found that there was no way of determining when the contamination occurred.

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