Mold, Lead, and Leftover Meth Causing Heartache for Homeowners

Last Updated Jul 24, 2009 10:11 AM EDT

If you're allergic to black mold, living in a house that has black mold hidden in the walls could actually kill you. Lead paint, still found in old houses built and painted before the 1970s era law that removed lead from paint, can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in kids.

But what do you do about the thousands of houses that were former methamphetamine labs? According to a story in the New York Times, home buyers who purchase houses formerly used as meth labs could find their health and wealth damaged by leftover drug residue that has seeped into the walls and floors.

Rhonda and Jason Holt found themselves and their young children plagued by strange illnesses as they lived in their spacious Winchester, TN home. She got migraines. She and her husband both developed kidney problems. And their three babies are described in the story as "ghostlike and listless," requiring steroids and frequent trips to the emergency room.

The house they bought turns out to have been contaminated by methamphetamine residue leftover from the previous occupant. Federal data suggests there could be tens of thousands of these homes. Municipal governments and police departments, faced with a budget shortfall that didn't include a line item for "meth lab house cleanup" may have found the cost to clean up these properties (estimated at $5,000 to $100,000, depending on the size and scope of the job) prohibitive. So, they sold them without disclosure to unsuspecting homeowners.

Nice.

Meanwhile, homeowners are finding that their homeowners insurance policies don't cover these kind of cleanups, much the way they don't cover lead or mold removal. The Holts faced a $30,000 bill to clean up their home.

Should they have to pay? It seems to me that if you're a municipal government and you know a house is a former meth lab, and you know it's being sold, then you should disclose the possibility of contamination. If you don't, you deserve the bill for this cleanup - not the homeowners who are already dealing with severe and possibly life-threatening health issues. (UPDATE: Some local governments are already putting real estate laws into place dealing with this issue.)

Going forward, what happens to former meth lab houses that become part of a new wave of foreclosures? Will it be the bank's responsibility to let buyers know that the house comes with its own unique set of problems?
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    Ilyce R. Glink is an award-winning, nationally syndicated columnist, best-selling book author, and radio talk show host who also hosts "Expert Real Estate Tips," a Internet video show. She owns ThinkGlink.com as well as Think Glink Media, a privately held company that provides consulting, content and video services to companies and non-profit organizations.

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