John and Jessie Bates, a newlywed couple from Suquamish, had a healthy bank account, one car loan, and no debt, in 2008. John, 34, had completed three tours in Iraq with the U.S. navy, and came home to find a job as a pipefitter in Bangor. Jessie, 29, worked as a nanny, after leaving a job at Washington Mutual, so she could spend more time to spend with her son,Tyler. Tyler was a typical eight year old boy, enjoying his job as an elementary school student. The Bates are a picture of the all American family; a family who enjoys the simple pleasures in life, like sitting around a bonfire while enjoying the company of family and friends, and owning their own home.
A manufactured home in Suqamish, that had recently been remodeled, seemed like the perfect match. It had two acres of land, a nice view of Seattle, and it was within their price range, $235,000. Their credit rating was good and they had enough money saved up to make the down payment. They studied the real estate disclosure form to see what the sellers checked off for rodents, sanitation, and drug activity – no, no, no. They had a standard home inspection done. No major problems. It was a done deal. They signed a mortgage loan with the bank and looked forward with excitement to starting a new chapter in their lives. But, just a few weeks later, their lives would take a turn that they never expected. Something was making them sick. They had no idea that they were living in a former meth lab, but that’s only part of this story.
The first sign that something wasn’t quite right were the terrible odors in the house. John was determined to find out what the home inspection didn’t find – there was human sewage in the insulation of the master bedroom and black mold inside the walls. The following night, Tyler had to be taken the the ER at the local hospital for difficulties with his breathing. Jessie and John would get also get sick over the months that followed.
The more they investigated problems with their home, the more the American dream began to resemble a nightmare. Someone had put lipstick on what was now “their pig”. The new flooring in the home was hiding old linoleum underneath it. The septic system had backed up during the rehab of the house and it had never been properly cleaned up. They were infested with rats. The more they tried to investigate and fix the problems, the sicker they got.
In September 2008, they found out from a neighbor that the previous residents may have been running a meth lab. Worried about her family, Jessie called Able RTW Corp, out of Tacoma, WA and asked them if they’d test the house for meth. Able’s tests confirmed what their neighbor suspected – the house was full of the residue left by meth manufacturing chemicals. The Bates now owned a hazardous waste site considered to be “unfit for human inhabitation” by the health department. Jessie, 29, John, 34 and Tyler, 8, once so full of hope for the future, had lost their home through no fault of their own.
Owning a own home had been reduced to a monthly mortgage payment and a monthly storage garage bill, in just a matter of days, for the Bates. A lot of things ran through their mind, not the least of which was being able paying their bills on time, including their mortgage. They couldn’t afford to let their credit rating slip. John’s job depended on it. “Home” for the Bates would now mean the home of Jessie’s mom and step-father, a place they could stay while they figured out how to hold on to their good credit, their house, and their belongings which may also be contaminated that now sit in a storage garage. The cost of decontaminating a meth lab home can run in to tens of thousands of dollars. In some cases the house is so contaminated that the only recourse an owner has is to demolish it and start over or let the bank foreclose on it. Foreclosure wasn’t an option. Foreclosure would mean John would not only lose his house, but he’d lose his Bangor security clearance, which would he needed for his job.
So, the Bates thought they’d hire a lawyer and sue the former owners. More bad news. The lawyer said the lawsuit could be lengthy and costly. John and Jessie now saw two choices before them – spend money on a lawsuit that could a long time to resolve if ever or pay for the demolition of their home and start rebuilding a new home. They opted to rebuild their lives by building a new home, with some financial support from Jesse’s mother who has agreed to lend them money from her retirement account.
Jesse has a message for home buyers – “Buyers beware, especially as foreclosures increase. If you don’t know the history of the house, have it tested! And keep in mind that a “standard home inspection” will not detect drug activity.”
As in other states, the Bates are not eligible to receive funding to clean up their meth lab home, despite the fact that they didn’t contaminate it. Grants are available to clean up meth labs, however they are only available to organizations, not individual home owners.
Jesse Bates asked me to share her family’s story with you so that you might learn from their experience.