California Real Estate (Property) law holds property owners and landlords responsible for providing notification to tenants and future owners of any hazards existing on a property offered for lease or sale. One of these hazards can be chemical contamination due to a clandestine Methamphetamine (Meth) laboratory. Clandestine drug laboratories can be found in all sections of LA County. Effective January 1, 2006, a new law that deals with Meth labs went into effect. The Methamphetamine Contaminated Property Act of 2005 requires the clean up of the property so it can be safe for occupancy and imposes fines on the seller of a residential property who fails to disclose information about contamination resulting from a Meth lab. This law also requires the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) to respond to complaints of potentially contaminated property. Response includes evaluating the property, testing for contamination, notifying and posting of warning notices, issuing orders prohibiting occupancy if the site is not safe, as well as overseeing the ultimate return of the property to a safe environment. Property owners are responsible for all the costs that may be associated with these actions.
If the house you’re looking to buy is a former meth lab, the seller may not have to tell you about it. Each year, thousands of meth labs are discovered by police, while thousands more go undetected. Many of these labs are in houses that eventually get sold to unsuspecting buyers who have no idea that the home’s surfaces, insulation and carpeting may be steeped in poisonous substances. If the house you’re looking to buy is a former meth lab, the seller may not have to tell you about it. Each year, thousands of meth labs are discovered by police, while thousands more go undetected. Many of these labs are in houses that eventually get sold to unsuspecting buyers who have no idea that the home’s surfaces, insulation and carpeting may be steeped in poisonous substances. Sellers may also be allowed to conceal a home’s meth lab past if the house has gone through decontamination. Real estate agents are expected to abide by an industry code of ethics, which requires them to reveal all known material factors, according to National Association of Realtors’ spokesman Walter Molony. The key word there is “known,” however. Agents can’t be held responsible if the home is later found to be contaminated. To minimize the odds of buying a former meth lab, first check the DEA’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register. Clicking on your state will reveal a list of known contaminated properties and addresses. Buyers should also check out the property’s deed at the county clerk’s office, said Ted Goodman, an attorney with Murfree & Murfree in Murfreesboro, Tenn. In some states, when meth labs have been uncovered by local law officers, the property must be registered with the clerk. Also, check with local police. Ask if there were any arrests or complaints made about the house. And talk to neighbors. They may have observed suspicious activity that never made it as far as the law. When inspecting a house, look for telltale signs of meth production, said Mazzuca. If there are old cans, bottles or packages of substances like acetone, muriatic acid, brake cleaner, drain cleaner, iodine, paint thinner, phosphorus or ether lying around, that’s a big red flag. So are rubber gloves or tubing, dust masks, propane tanks, coolers and camp stoves. Even if there are no visible signs, buyers in areas of high meth use should test for contamination with kits that cost about $50. Meth Lab Cleanup sells a kit for $55, which includes the lab work. If a test turns up positive, a more comprehensive one can be conducted by a professional for between $500 and $700, according to Mazzuca. Beware of cheap foreclosed properties, which are usually sold “as is.” Many meth users have messy lives. They lose their homes to foreclosure and the properties are often trashed and abandoned. Some are quickly resold at rock-bottom prices. Once it’s been determined that a house is contaminated, the cost of cleaning it up usually falls to the current owner, according to Sigmund. That can run $10,000 or more. Sigmund says he knows of no case where the buyer successfully sued a prior owner to recover the money. And there’s little chance of collecting anything anyway. The former owners are typically meth users themselves and the small labs they built are often to feed their own habits. “Meth heads are typically low-lifes, disgusting, filthy people,” said Mazzuca. “There’s not a lot of money involved.”
Youve finally done it: youve stepped into the realm of homeownership. The inspection checked out, the location is perfect for you and your family, and the neighbors seem friendlyall in all, you feel right at home. Buying a house is exciting, but before you sign on the dotted line, check to see if your new home was used as a meth lab. You might say to yourself this is unlikely, but CNN reports that thousands of unsuspecting people fall victim to purchasing meth houses every year.1 Once a house has been exposed to meth, the molecules stick to surfaces like the walls and floors and can even penetrate through to the insulation. This type of exposure is especially dangerous for young children who tend to put their hands in their mouths after crawling around or playing with toys on the floor. The worst part is, once youve purchased the home, the burden of cleaning the chemicals and making it safe falls on you and your loved ones. And, unfortunately, the cleanup process can be quite expensiveupwards of $10,000, according to CNN.2 Avoid this scenario by following the steps below to determine if youre about to buy a meth house. Its always better to be safe, especially when it involves your family. you a better idea of the area and locations of concentrated meth labs. If you dont see your house on this list, check your states law enforcement database for similar lists of houses that have been reported for drug activity. Ask Your Neighbors Neighbors like to gossipuse that to your advantage. Dont be afraid to stop by your neighbors place and ask about the history of your house. If theyve lived in the area for a while, theyll likely have important details about odd behavior, suspicious activities, and the previous owners. Not only is this a good way to make friends, its also invaluable firsthand knowledge to have of the house. Go to the Police Station After youve talked to a few neighbors around the block, take a trip down to the police station to see official reports filed on your house. Police officers have a plethora of information about the location that will help steer you in the right direction. Theyll know everything from the number of arrests to the kinds of disturbances and criminal activities that have taken place. If the house has multiple drug-related incidences, make sure meth wasnt involved. Smell for Strong Odors Its normal for older homes and fixer-uppers to be a little smelly. As youre walking through a house, sniff aroundliterally. Certain chemical smells such as paint thinner, ether, acetone, and cat urine might be signs of meth production. Dont be alarmed by every smell, but be sure to ask your realtor some hard questions if you smell the telltale signs of meth. Check the Homes History Make sure the deal youre getting on the house isnt too good to be true. A foreclosure or short sale seems like a great opportunity to buy an amazing property at an extremely low price. And oftentimes it is. However, troubled properties happen to have higher risks of meth contamination. Before finalizing the sale on a foreclosure, do your due diligence and check its history so you know its a good deal. Note Unsanitary Conditions First impressions can be very telling. If you walk into a house that looks messy and has trash all over the place, its a good indicator that something might be amiss. Another red flag is deep stains on the carpet and walls. Most meth producers tend to neglect their homes. Thats not to say that every messy house is a drug den, but keep a skeptical eye on things if you find yourself in a home that is excessively dirty. Look for Destructive Behavior The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that long periods of drug use tend to lead to violent behavior.3 Drugs have a devastating impact on the brain, which may cause temper outbursts and other volatile actions. As you walk through a house, take a close look at the walls, doors, and frames. Do they look damaged or punched in? If so, find out about the previous owners. There might be a lot more to the story of a house with a violent past. Buy a Test Kit Looks can be deceiving. A newly refinished house might not have any visible signs of prior meth production, but you never know whats lurking right beneath the surface. Ask your realtor or inspector to do a meth test on the property. You can even purchase your own, relatively inexpensive, meth test and get permission from the owners to do the test. Not only will you feel good that your house is everything youve ever dreamed of, but youll have peace of mind that your family will be safe from harm. Purchasing a home is one of the biggest investments youll ever makeso take it slow. Meth labs occur by the thousands all over the country, and its likely that there are many more undocumented cases. And, unfortunately, the health risks of meth are very seriouseven deadly. In the short term, you might experience headaches, nausea, and throat and eye irritation. While in the long term youll be at risk for cancer, liver damage, kidney failure, miscarriages, and birth defects. And although its easy to assume that meth houses are only in certain locations, its simply not true. From high-end to middle-class neighborhoodsyou never know which house is hiding a drug-riddled past. So when youre out house hunting, do your research, keep your eyes and nose open, ask questions, andwhen in doubttest.