1 Nov 2016

HNZ unsure how many tenants kicked out for meth

1:19 pm on 1 November 2016

Housing NZ has admitted it cannot say how many tenants it removed and blacklisted from state homes last year because of methamphetamine , after initially saying it evicted only five.

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Photo: RNZ

Its controversial methamphetamine testing programme has been criticised after the Ministry of Health revealed it had repeatedly advised Housing NZ its meth lab guidelines were only suitable for use in former meth labs.

Instead, Housing NZ has been using the testing to evict tenants from properties where it was thought the drug may have been smoked, with some individual tenants forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to clean up the houses.

Last week, Housing NZ manager of chemical programmes Charlie Mitchell strenuously denied the Health Ministry had issued any such advice.

Mr Mitchell also said there had been just five evictions for meth contamination last year.

"Housing New Zealand takes this issue very, very seriously - last year we had five evictions that were directly related to methamphetamine."

Mr Mitchell said the agency carried out more than 1000 methamphetamine tests and had about 800 positive tests last year.

He said conversations were had with tenants in houses that had tested positive.

"In many instances we said to them your property is contaminated, and we need to sit there and find a way to remove you from that environment because it is unsafe.

"And in many cases we moved those tenants on to new properties," Mr Mitchell said.

Tenants given notice if meth tests are positive - Housing NZ

But a document released by Housing NZ in September and obtained by RNZ said the agency classified an eviction as when a court bailiff was required to forcibly remove a tenant from a property.

"Therefore, evictions are not an accurate guide to the number of tenancies ended due to methamphetamine," the document reads.

It shows that if Housing NZ tests a property and the test shows contamination above Ministry of Health meth-lab guidelines the agency issues a 90-day notice requiring the tenant to vacate the property.

"In the 2015/16 financial year we issued 117 90-day notices for this reason."

The document said Housing NZ could also issue seven-day vacate the property notices, but did not reveal how many were given out.

"If a tenant it responsible for the contamination we will terminate their tenancy and suspend them from living in one of our properties for up to one year."

However, it also makes clear not all 90-day notices resulted in the ending of a tenancy, and that if reasonable doubt existed over who caused the contamination Housing NZ "will transfer the tenant to another property".

The agency could not say how many of the 117 tenants who received 90-day notices were re-housed, and how many were evicted and blacklisted.

"The information you require is held on separate files for each tenancy and will require some time to collate," the agency said, saying it would process the information as another Official Information Act request.

The document also shows that in the 2013/14 financial year Housing NZ spent $706,000 on meth testing and reinstating contaminated properties.

The next year that figure had increased to $2.9 million.

In the 2015/16 year, those costs had ballooned to $21 million.

The Labour Party said Housing NZ's inability to say how many tenants it had blacklisted for alleged meth contamination showed hopeless administration.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Housing NZ should be housing vulnerable people, not finding excuses to kick them out.

"It doesn't look good, and now we've got the Ministry of Health saying what their guidelines actually mean, and it's not a basis to evict people. If Housing New Zealand has used those guidelines in a way for which they were never intended, that reflects poorly on Housing New Zealand."