The nation’s drug epidemic is generating some unexpected side effects for unlucky home buyers who find that their new property is contaminated with methamphetamine, a problem that is a health risk and is costly to fix.
Sellers in just over half of states are legally bound to disclose whether, to their knowledge, the property has been used as a meth lab. The laws are weaker when it comes to letting buyers know if meth was smoked there.
Just this month, Washington state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require sellers to inform buyers if the property was ever used to manufacture illegal drugs.
The bill was inspired by the plight of Jason and Amanda Gates and their three small children. Ten days after moving into their newly purchased dream home in Maple Valley, WA, the family was forced to evacuate after the house tested positive for crystal meth contamination, according to Seattle-area television station KIRO7.
When produced or heavily smoked in a home, the drug gets into the walls, carpets, and heating and cooling systems. The HVAC systems are the most problematic, as they suck in the drug’s fumes and then spit them out all over the home.
Even traces of the drug in the walls or furniture in a home can cause headaches or nausea, and potentially lead to childhood developmental issues.
“As a parent, you feel guilt for exposing your children to that kind of situation and environment,” Jason Gates told the station.
The couple had picked up the home in a foreclosure auction. But drug labs aren’t always distressed properties sold at auction, nor rural fixer-uppers. Cops raided a drug lab in a luxury high-rise building last year in the trendy New York City neighborhood where Amazon is slated to open one of its new headquarters.
And once a home is contaminated, it’s not always easy to clean it up.
“Think about [meth] as going into a house with heavy smokers. Nicotine will adhere to the walls,” says Kirk Flippin, owner of Texas Decon in Seguin, TX. The company cleans up former meth labs, hoarder homes, murder scenes, and other sorts of unpleasantness. “That’s what methamphetamine does.”
Watch: Get Smoker’s Smell Out of Your House for Good—Here’s How
As pervasive as it may be, meth contamination is not as easy to detect as potential buyers might think. Folks can check the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s drug lab registry, but there’s no guarantee that the property is on it. They can also look for burns in the carpet or patches of dead grass outside where chemicals may have been dumped. But they won’t always find any telltale signs.
“[In] 95% of the places I’ve walked into, you’d never know,” says Flippin. “I usually don’t smell anything, I don’t see anything.”
Since most home inspectors don’t test for the presence of meth, folks can check out a potential home purchase using inexpensive kits available online. It’s cheaper than having to drop anywhere from $2,500 to $40,000 and up to get traces of the drug out of a home you’ve already bought. And that cost doesn’t include replacing carpeting, furniture, or even entire walls.
“The most important advice I would give anybody is, if you’re going to buy a home, talk to the neighbors,” Flippin says. “The neighbors are going to know.”
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