7 Jun 2018

Meth evictions: Govt has 'moral responsibility' to put it right

6:16 am on 7 June 2018

People who've been needlessly evicted from state houses because of methamphetamine hysteria face a nervous wait to find out if they'll get any compensation.

A close up photo of two hands with gloves on, swabbing within a 100 square centimetre stencil stuck to a wall. By swabbing within that area, testing companies get a sample that corresponds to Ministry of Health guidelines for meth.

Testing a house for meth contamination. Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

The government has ordered Housing New Zealand (HNZ) to deliver a comprehensive report, after a report found there is no health risk from living in a house where meth had previously been smoked.

HNZ chief executive Andrew McKenzie yesterday revealed the agency would look into possibly paying back tenants who'd been forced to pay for testing and cleaning.

Property lawyer Duncan Terris, from the Law Society, said the outcome of the HNZ review would be "pivotal" to tenants' hope of redress.

"To try pre-empt that is probably not worth the effort."

Mr Terris said the cost and complexity of the case meant it would be "a long, hard road to get any real resolve".

"To take on Housing New Zealand independently as a one-off, the costs of engaging and potential litigation is probably quite prohibitive unfortunately."

Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis said tenants had few legal options outside of just waiting to see what the government decided.

He said tenants had a "very narrow window" to appeal Tenancy Tribunal rulings.

"You've got to appeal them within 10 days of the decision being handed down and that window will have closed long since," he said.

"That's setting aside the fact [tenants would] have to hire lawyers and most of these people can't afford accommodation or food, let alone legal costs."

The legal quagmire meant a political solution was required, Mr Geddis said.

"Really what's needed is for central government to step in and recognise that because of its actions ... there's a moral responsibility to put it right."

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell agreed that the government needed to treat the matter as a moral issue rather than a legal one.

"The government needs to do the right thing," he said.

Mr Bell said the compensation should extend beyond paying back tenants for cleaning costs.

Many people had also had their furniture destroyed, had to pay expensive moving bills or ended up on the street.

A payment for hurt and humiliation would also be appropriate, he said.

Ross Bell, Drug Foundation Executive Director

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell says the government needs to do the right thing. Photo: RNZ Insight/Teresa Cowie

"I hope that pragmatism and compassion will win the day here. Let's not worry about these court cases, any legal processes.

"We can find a much, much easier way through... and return some compensation to people who were really harmed."

The government has ordered a review into how the meth standard was set and the Auditor-General has received a request to investigate HNZ.

Mr McKenzie yesterday said the agency had put a stop to any further repayments from tenants who still owed it money.

Following the Morning Report interview, Mr McKenzie provided more information on the decision in a statement.

"Following the Gluckman Report, we will not be seeking further payments from tenants on repayment arrangements.

"We have halted everything we can and will deal with any residual cases currently moving through the Tenancy Tribunal."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday said the government hadn't ruled anything in or out on repayment or compensation to tenants.

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