The increasing demand for methamphetamine (meth) by drug users has created a new risk for many rental owners and investors. This highly addictive drug is created by crudely cooking the ingredients in what is called a meth lab. Due to the odors this process can entail, these labs have usually been more of a rural issue than urban. But the tide has turned and police agencies are now reporting increasing numbers of meth labs inside our cities. Any simple internet search of the terms “meth labs in urban areas” will provide lots of stories of how these labs are no longer primarily a rural issue.
Anybody who purchases or rents homes needs to gain an understanding of the dangers and costs associated with a meth lab on a residential property.
How A Meth Lab Harms A Property
In more rural settings, meth labs are set up in storage barns, vacant buildings, or detached garages. With the increase of meth production in urban areas, these types of spaces are not available. This leaves the occupants to prepare their drugs inside the home. The process of cooking meth leaves a toxic residue that will contaminate all of the house surfaces to include even the soil around the home. The chemicals are highly toxic and combustible. Meth labs have been known to blow up increasing the circle of damage and endangering innocent lives.
How A Meth Lab Harms People
If a home has been used as a meth lab, it can not be lived in until decontaminated. People who unknowingly live in a home that formerly was a meth lab suffer from a number of health issues from the contamination. The toxicity can enter the body by being inhaled or the skin absorbing the materials. Common health complaints by people living near an operating meth lab are headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Chest pain and lack of coordination also have been reported. In the worst cases respiratory issues, kidney damage, cancer and even death are a risk. Then finally the risk of people being hurt in an explosion is very high.
Clues To Identify A Meth Lab
When inspecting a property, take note of the types of trash found. Pay close attention to trash such as empty containers of anti-freeze, white gas, ether, or starting fluids. Sheets or filters that are stained red or have a white, powdery residue. Large amounts of cold, diet, or allergy pill boxes (over-the-counter ephedrine or pseudoephedrine) likely signal a potential issue. If a large amount of over the counter medications like decongestants, stimulants or asthma medication are found you should look closer. Drain openers, freon, lye, paint thinner, acetone, or alcohol. Stains on soil or concrete and large areas of dead grass are also signs.
Meth lab equipment might include rubber hosing, duct tape, bottles and other glass containers, pressurized cylinders, camp stove fuel canisters, propane tanks and respiratory masks. Ammonia or propane tanks, anhydrous ammonia (in coolers). Jars or bottles with rubber tubing attached.
If any of these clues are present, talk to the neighbors about strong chemical odors they may have detected or if they have had any skin irritations, headaches or respiratory problems. As the clues stack up, it is time to bring in the professional law enforcement and no more time should be spent inside the property. To make one pound of methamphetamine, six pounds of hazardous, toxic waste is produced.
Meth Lab Clean Ups
The cost of clean-up is significant. A rental property owner will likely be informed by local law enforcement if the lab is busted. Once this occurs local government agencies will monitor the clean up and will not allow a home to be occupied until it receives a clean bill of health.
How can a rental owner look for clues their rental is being used as a meth lab? The property owner is recognized as the responsible party for clean up of a meth lab site. So, in the case of an owner-occupant who was using the property for cooking meth, they may have no choice than to try to sell the property and not disclose its former use. This is a real risk if the property was never identified as a meth lab.
For a rental owner, all rental income will cease until decontamination is complete. De-contamination is not a simple do-it-yourself project. Meth lab clean-up will cost a high mid 4 figures for a small home, and into the tens of thousands of dollars for a larger property. The process is strictly regulated and monitored and only certified contractors can provide the service.
Most insurance companies will not cover the cost of remediation of a meth lab but they may be able to direct the owner to a certified clean up contractor. A certified meth clean up crew is usually a hazardous material company. They will need to be hired immediately. They will secure the site and also, when allowed, remove all the hazardous materials associated with the meth lab. The clean up process will include:
- airing out the property
- removing all contaminated materials including fixtures and drywall
- chemical washing floors and walls where it is determined they do not have to be removed
- thorough duct washing
- completely clean the plumbing system
Once these steps are completed the contractor will submit a request for inspection to the local authorities. The final process will include testing to certify the property has been re mediated and again safe to occupy.
Prudence In Purchasing A Rental
if you are planning on expanding your rental property inventory, make sure you are confident that any properties you purchase were not used as meth labs in the past. As soon as you own it, you become liable for the cleanup. During due diligence, if you have any suspicions, consider checking with the local police department, and have the property tested during the inspection. If you find suspicious residue, you can even test it yourself.
Meth Lab Disclosure Registries
Effective July 1, 2014 the Indiana General Assembly (House Enrolled Act 1141) created a process for disclosure by property owners for known Indiana meth contaminated properties. The registry is maintained by the Indiana State Police.
Indiana meth properties can be excluded from the registry if the owner decontaminates the property within 180 days of learning of its contamination. If a property is listed on the registry, a procedure exists to request removal. The owner needs to provide a certificate of decontamination from a state certified inspector.
Finally, property owners may seek actual damages, lost rent, and the cost of decontamination from individuals or entities who contaminate their property through the manufacture of meth.
It is prudent and wise to be familiar with the growing amount of meth being produced in areas where you may own, or purchase, property. Investors should inspect homes with an open eye as to their condition. Also, research a properties history before buying, as part of any investor’s due-diligence.