Busted meth labs go back on housing market

By: Helen Headlee Email
By: Helen Headlee Email

When a meth lab is busted, law enforcement removes all the chemicals, drugs and lab components, but the meth isn't entirely gone.

"Itching eyes, burning skin, it may be difficult to breathe," said Bill Coye, who is a registered nurse and owner of Apex Bioclean--a company that cleans meth labs.

Those symptoms are just an example of what a family living in a former lab can experience, and Coye said the fix is remediation.

"Anything absorbent in the home has to be removed," he said. "Carpet pad, tack strip, ceiling texture if it's very coarse. And what do you do with the furnace and the duct work?"

Coye's company tests the level of chemical residue, scrubs the house top to bottom, and retests.But depending on the level of contamination and size of the home that can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000.

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward explains that law enforcement puts a placard on the door stating that the property was a meth lab and that the owner needs to have it cleaned--but the owner doesn't always foot the bill.

"Some we fear are taking the placard off the door when we leave, airing the house out, putting some new paint on the walls, new carpet, smells wonderful like a brand new apartment and they rent it to somebody else," Woodward said.

That's because the law in Oklahoma doesn't require homeowners or landlords to clean a home before selling or renting. They are required by law to disclose to tenants or buyers that the home used to be a meth lab. But Rita Ponder with Frances One Realty said it can get tricky if the home was a foreclosure--and they often are.

"It's just a home that's put on the market, and we try to sell," Ponder said. "But we don't know the circumstances of the home."

Last year 829 homes were busted as meth labs in the state, and with that number on the rise, Woodward said some Oklahomans have wondered why no law exists requiring meth lab cleanup. The answer comes down to money.

"Is it the Bureau of Narcotics that pays and then we recoup the loss from the defendants? Well no, because the defendants don't have any money," said Woodward.

And OBN estimates it would cost the state between $17 million and $37 million to finance all the cleanups.

So to avoid being stuck with the bill, Woodward, Coye and Ponder all recommend doing your homework before you move in: ask neighbors about the history of the home, ask the police or sheriff's office to look it up, or check the DEA's list of clandestine labs online.

But the only way to really know is to test.

"To make sure that that individual who moves into that house with his or her family is going to be safe," said Coye. "And that really is what this is about. This is about public health and safety."

If you've already moved into a former meth lab and that fact wasn't disclosed by the seller or landlord, Woodward adds that you have grounds for legal action.


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