Housing New Zealand says it does not have any plans to stop chasing tenants for methamphetamine decontamination costs, despite the Housing Minister being under the impression that it stopped doing so 18 months ago.
The state housing provider has spent about $100 million on testing and remediation of meth-contaminated houses over the past four years, and pursued some clients through the Tenancy Tribunal for costs.
A report released on Tuesday by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Peter Gluckman discredited Housing NZ’s testing standard of 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2, and proved much of this decontamination work unnecessary.
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Housing Minister Phil Twyford told RNZ on Friday it was his understanding that Housing NZ chief executive Andrew McKenzie put a stop to billing tenants for meth decontamination when he stepped into the job about 18 months ago.
But Tenancy Tribunal records show the crown agency was pursuing costs as recently as May.
A Papatoetoe tenant was billed $19,297 for decontamination in March, for a house with readings of 4.72 micrograms per 100cm2 – less than a third of Gluckman’s revised standard of 15 micrograms per 100cm2.
Since 2015, Housing NZ clients in Wellington have been billed a total of more than $120,000 for meth decontamination, and more than $35,000 for testing, according to tribunal decisions.
Of the 12 tenants with decisions against them, more than half of them were billed in excess of $10,000 for decontamination, often paying upwards of $2000 for a single meth test.
A Porirua woman, who acknowledged meth was smoked at the property by others, was billed more than $15,000 for decontamination and almost $3000 for testing.
Twyford initially ruled out an apology or compensation for affected Housing NZ clients, despite calling the agency staggeringly incompetent while in in opposition.
He pivoted on Friday, apologising and directing Housing NZ to produce a full report into those affected by the new standard.
“I want to know how many houses were tested, what the results showed, the levels of contamination, who had their tenancies terminated on the basis of what evidence, who was evicted, who was banned from public housing, who was taken to the tenancy tribunal and who was forced to pay for remediation,” he said in a statement.
No commitments would be made until the report was publicly released, Twyford said. That included decisions on existing debt to being paid to Housing NZ.
“We can’t compensate for every mistake of the past government but we can put things right for the future, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Housing NZ chief executive Andrew McKenzie, who has been in the role since September 2016, again declined to be interviewed.
A statement attributed to McKenzie on Friday said Housing NZ would not seek to apply any guideline changes retrospectively, including for clients indebted to the agency for meth decontamination.
“This position will be reviewed in the report being prepared for Minister Twyford on Housing New Zealand’s approach to methamphetamine management in its houses.”
Disputes over issues like meth contamination can be settled before reaching the tenancy tribunal, meaning the exact of Housing NZ tenants who are still paying bills for meth decontamination is not known. It is expected to become apparent in the report.
The Tenancy Tribunal has also said it will not actively review its past decisions on meth contamination.
Principal tenancy adjudicator Melissa Poole said the judicial body relied on the most relevant and current guidelines available, and would amend its approach in the wake of Gluckman’s report.
Any person who disagrees with previous tribunal decisions can seek a re-hearing or appeal to the District Court for amounts over $1000.