There are millions of foreclosed homes on the market for investors and families to buy at a low price or short sale.
When buying or renting a foreclosed home or any home, you need to do your homework. Research the property first including talking to perhaps the best authorities – the neighbors.
In Peregrine-Tuscany Heights, Colorado Springs, a legal battle is going on now over a million dollar home podiatrist Bryan Groth and his wife bought. According to Colorado law, the new family can no longer live there after a 90-page meth assessment report showed the home is heavily contaminated with methamphetamine. The family had to vacate immediately and leave all their now-contaminated belongings behind. Estimates to de-contaminate the house are $125,000.
Zillow advertised the Colorado 5 bedroom, 5 bath, 6,803 square foot home for sale. The home has a private court yard containing imported venetian plaster, a limestone fireplace and fountain, gourmet kitchen, pecan flooring, custom lighting, double-sided fireplace, built-in barbeque, custom woodwork throughout and sits on 96 acres of mostly landscaped land. Hardly the place you’d think a meth lab would be.
The previous owners had divorced, and the mother thinks her 19 year-old son may have set up a meth lab in the Colorado home. The father denies her allegations. The realtors deny they knew anything. Whether the Groths win their case is anyone’s guess. According to Colorado law, it’s up to the new owners to prove the seller knowingly lied
on the disclosure form.
Take the story of Beth and Jonathan Hankins. They bought a foreclosed home this June in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The home was a modest one, it needed fresh paint and some other fixes, but the price was too good to pass up. They bought the home for $36,000 from Freddie Mac. For a young couple with a 2-year old toddler, they were trying to get the most out of their small financial budget.
Jonathan surmised the home needed a ‘bit of love but had good bones’. The home was sold to them “as is”. Freddie Mac informed the couple they were responsible for detecting hazards like asbestos and lead paint.
What the Hankins didn’t know was the house had been a “meth house”. The house had been used as a methamphetamine lab. Methamphetamine is an invisible toxin. Those chemicals were ‘cooked’ and smoked here and had contaminated the entire home.
Shortly after moving in, Beth, an ER nurse, began having breathing problems. Jonathan started having migraine headaches accompanied by nosebleeds. Their 2-year old, Ezra, had developed mouth sores so painful he couldn’t even drink water.
The family ordered a $50 testing kit to test the home for chemicals. The results showed the home had a contamination level 80 times higher than the Oregon Health Authority permitted. A regular home inspection only notes repairs and structural problems and doesn’t detect chemicals.
The Hankins moved out immediately but they’re still responsible for paying the mortgage payment on a home they can’t live in. Their attorneys are not hopeful for a reimbursement or a cancellation of the mortgage contract with Freddie Mac due to the “as is” clause. Estimates to decontaminate the house are more than what the house is worth. The Hankins are responsible for the cleanup.
Jonathan said Freddie Mac advertises they sell their homes responsibly and is shocked something like this could happen in the U.S.
Twenty-three states, including Oregon, have to disclose ‘meth houses’ or any drug houses. However, Freddie Mac said they never had prior information or even knew the home had been used to make drugs.
What’s more alarming, there are 2.5 million meth-contaminated homes in the United States right now. The residue from cooking the drugs isn’t always visible. The head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy testified his office receives a call every 3 to 5 minutes concerning a meth home. Only 1 in 10 meth homes are discovered and documented.
The chemicals used to make meth, also known as “crystal”, “ice” and “glass” can cause cancer, brain damage, birth defects, nervous system damage, liver and blood production problems. Chemicals such as Liquid Heat, toluene, denatured alcohol, Red Devil Lye and Liquid Plumber produce gases that adhere to everything in a house.
For each pound of drug, meth “cookers” dump, flush or leave behind 5 to 6 pounds of poisonous waste. If someone in the home smoked meth, they leave behind chemicals such as mercury, lead, iodine, lithium and other poisonous solvents that saturate walls, ceilings, floors and carpets.
Just last month, a grieving father in Michigan buried his 14-year old daughter after they unknowingly lived in a meth house for 2 years. Her bedroom had been highly contaminated with chemicals.
Grandparents in New Mexico frantically called 911 after their grandchild stopped breathing. Authorities investigating the baby’s death found evidence the home had once been a meth lab and were the cause of death.
Rick Dukatz, a Utah narcotics officer died last month from pancreatic cancer attributed directly to his exposure to meth lab chemicals while on the job.
A young couple rented an apartment in West Jordan, Utah. They kept cleaning, and cleaning but a black oily substance continued to come back. They began having debilitating headaches, hives developed in their throats stopping their breathing and theyhad trouble remembering things. They lost one baby through a miscarriage and a second baby was born with severe heart defects. After three years living in the apartment they had it tested and found it was contaminated with meth chemicals.
One newlywed couple became extremely sick after 3 months in a former meth apartment they had rented. The husband had severe hives, both had migraine headaches, stretch marks appeared on their inner thighs for no apparent reason, their colds never went away and both had memory loss. Testing found high levels of chemicals from meth smoking and cooking. They had to leave everything behind, including all their wedding gifts. For two years the husband had severe hives. They tried detoxing by taking sauna baths for six weeks – 5 to 6 hours each day. After the sauna baths, the towels they used were stained purple, black and yellow. They had read victims of 9/11 in New York had cleansed themselves with sauna baths.
Meth homes are everywhere. Another million-dollar home in the affluent Nichols Hills, Oklahoma area is a former meth home. Neighbors saw a lot of traffic going in and out of the home for months. These were customers buying and smoking meth inside the home. The owners were arrested. The house is too contaminated to sell and now sits vacant.
Colorado’s “Methamphetamine Laboratory Disclosure Act went into effect January 1, 2007 and states “A seller who fails to make a disclosure required by this section at or before the time of sale and who knew of methamphetamine production on the property is liable to the buyer for: (I) Costs relating to remediation of the property according to the standards established by rules of the state board of health promulgated pursuant to section 25-18.5-1-2, C.R.S.; (II) Costs relating to health-related injuries occurring after the sale to residents of the property caused by methamphetamine production on the property; and (III) Reasonable attorney fees for collection of costs from the seller.
If you’re thinking about buying a short sale home, foreclosed home, or even renting you should check into the background of the property.
Besides talking to neighbors, check out the property through police records and the health department. You can also check with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Buy a kit and test for chemicals or hire someone to come in and test before you buy or rent, or look for any of these signs of a meth lab:
- Chemical stains on wall and floors. Hydrochloric acid spills will whiten wood flooring or carpeting.
- Yellow discoloration on walls, drains, sinks and showers
- Blue discoloration on valves of propane tanks and fire extinguishers
- Fire detectors that are disabled
- Burning in your eyes, metallic taste in your throat, itchy throat or breathing problems when in the home
- Strong odors such as solvent, paint thinner, cat urine or ammonia
- Kitty litter – even a few pebbles. Litter is often used to soak up spilled chemicals
- Burned patches of grass, burn pits or unusual dead vegetation
- Any kind of dark or iodine-colored stains around window sills or walls (Spray a stain with spray starch – if it is iodine it’ll turn a dark bluish or purplish color.)
- Any odd plumbing, vent systems and/or electrical connection
- Forgotten glassware or plastic bottles, hoses, empty containers, used coffee filters,
lithium batteries that have been torn apart, cold tablet packaging, especially in a
basement or attic
Don’t rely on the seller to tell the truth on the disclosure form.
Keith A. Gantenbein, Jr. is a Colorado foreclosure defense attorney located in Denver and servicing all of Colorado. He also handles bankruptcies, mortgage negotiations, lender liability, real estate, civil litigation, contracts and landlord/tenant. If you think you will be facing foreclosure, or are in the foreclosure process, or have had a wrongful
foreclosure, contact Keith Gantenbein at (303) 618-2122 for a one-hour consultation where he will discuss your situation and go over all your options with you.