The Bates Family: Three tours in Iraq and and now a meth lab home

john-and-tyler-in-uniformJohn 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.

bates-family-in-front-of-their-fireplaceThe 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.”

MLH Note:

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.

Comments

  1. Rhonda H. says:

    May God Bless You and Your Family! We know exactly what you are going through because we are still in the process of it ourselves. Right now we are sitting in the hospital with our 2 yr old daughter Anna, who has been in respiratory distress since Wed. due to the effects of living in a meth lab home all of her life. We Pray for your family, and pray for your rebuilding. And although the path is long, just remember when one door closes another one will open!!

  2. sam wood says:

    checking with nieghbors 1st bfore buying any vacant home should be the first thing aperson shoulddo

  3. hepkess says:

    It would seem to me that the people that promoted and sold the house should be partially to blame. If I sell poisonous or hazardous goods, I am the one that is going to get arrested. It goes back to the person that made the product, not the person posessing it. What is wrong with this? Why are people held responsible for buying a house in good faith? The building inspectors, the county and even the state should be taken to task on this.

  4. Well, Sam Wood. I guess homebuyers should get a checklist from YOU before they do anything. How egotistical can one be, this family is having some hard times, through no fault of their own. Especially hard in our current economic state as a nation, and you come prancing on here and make a comment like that. Shut your mouth, noone wants to hear that, especially them.

    • Bob this Sam Woods is right you should always talk with the neighbors (and we always have before buying) since they maybe the meth cookers and you don’t want to be anywhere around their place. They have been know to blow up and there would possibly go your place as well. It was a criminal act for the previous owners to not disclose this information to the realtor and if I remember right in Washington you can get some free legal help on going after that point. And home inspectors these days do need to put drug tests as part of the regular home inspections.

  5. In many cases the new homeowners cannot sue the former because of many different reasons – the former is in prison, the costs of a lawsuit, or the former don’t have the money.

    Home Inspectors should be adding a “Meth Check” on their inspection lists.
    The Real Estate company who sold the house should also be responsible for clean-up costs, especially if they knew of the home’s prior use as a meth lab.

    With the frequency of this happening all over the United States, I think the Federal Government should provide grants and/or low cost loans to help these people.

  6. Best of luck to all of those that find themselves in this dreadful situation. The best course of action is to avoid getting in this predicament in the first place. A agree with “Sam Wood’s” suggestion to speak with neighbors and ask lots of questions. This is also helpful in getting to know the people who will potentially be your neighbors. Maybe the neighbor act a little crazy or may be operating their own meth lab in which case you should look elsewhere.

    Don’t assume that because the seller seems like a decent guy and has school age children that there is no need to perform the appropriate due diligence. Also, don’t rely on home inspectors to check for meth. They are not qualified! If you have any suspicions, hire someone qualified to test for mold and hazardous substances. Its better spend a few extra dollars and have piece of mind. In fact, have the real estate broker sign a statement guaranteeing that no hazardous substances are present and if it is discovered, they are liable for remediation. If they have a problem signing such a document, respond by asking the broker to take the cost of hiring an expert out of their commission.

  7. Chris Green says:

    I feel awful for you guys. This country should put the prisoners who get into trouble for meth should be put in charge of cleaning these things up

  8. I just backed out of buying my first house. We were disclosed that it was a meth lab and didn’t think twice when we were told that the place was cleaned up. We figured that the owner cleaning/venting/re-flooring/re-carpeting/re-painting and re-sealing everything that the place was good to go. There was even a nice little official letter from the metro government telling us that it was inspected by Louisville Metro Health Department and deemed suitable to live in. I called the inspector that took care of the case and he basically told me that there is simply no way to know whether or not the place was safe. Even if it is inspected by an independent environmental agency, there is still no concrete evidence that the new residence (POTENTIALLY ME!) would develop any illness from the exposure. Well, to say the least, the day before signing the official mortgage I had an epiphany! I COULD DEVELOP CANCER BECAUSE NOBODY HAS ANY CONCRETE INFORMATION ON LONG TERM EXPOSURE TO PREVIOUS METH LABS. The idea that nobody on this planet really knows what happens to you after being exposed to even the most minute traces of the chemicals that meth labs release was enough for me to not want to put myself and my fiance/dogs in danger. This is such a scary thing for our generation and it is really unfortunate that this is something that society has to deal with. There is so many places for those cancer causing chemicals to hide. Don’t forget about the houses HVAC system! All the sites I look at mention little about cleaning the HVAC. That is the ventilation for the house at the time of production and is the same system that will do the same for the new tenants; except with a nasty little surprise! I would recommend for anyone that is looking to buy a pre-existing meth lab to just not do it. You don’t really know what is going to happen. Remember, we are all human. That includes the inspectors also, who might let something potentially life threatening slip past their professional eye. Is that huge house that has the mysteriously low price really worth the risk? I hope that something happens in the future to further protect home buyers/families that are at this time left with almost no option when they are left with the worst of all problems: an un-inhabitable house with a 30 year mortgage!

  9. My opinion is that the people that made the decision to make meth should not only do time in jail but be forced to clean rebuild as a community service for their crime.

  10. I feel bad for what this family is going through and in no way do I want to minimize their situation but I must inject a little skepticism into this emotionally charged debate. According to this story the first problem they encountered was a persistent foul odor. Then they discover human sewage inside the walls, which is likely what they smelled. Human feces, black mold and rats are not byproducts of meth production but they certainly could be the source of illness. The acticle claims that professionals conducted test and determined that “the house was full of the residue left by meth manufacturing chemicals” yet no mention is made of exactly what chemicals were detected. I’ve read dozens of stories nearly identical to this one and never do the give specifics on the chemicals contaminating the residence. This is a significant omission because we repeatedly hear that meth is made from readily available household chemicals which means that most every home in America might have residues of meth manufacturing chemicals.

    John S. said in a reply:
    “The idea that nobody on this planet really knows what happens to you after being exposed to even the most minute traces of the chemicals that meth labs release was enough for me to not want to put myself and my fiance/dogs in danger.”

    This is another example of the irrational hysteria that is typical in this discussion. The chemicals that are used in these labs are not some newly created molecules. Every last one of them is well known and their properties, including hazards and safe levels of exposure can be found on the material safety data sheet (msds) of each of them. The criteria that every state uses to determine if a former lab house is safe for habitation is not the level of any precursor chemicals found but rather the amount of actual methamphetamine residue found and gram for gram the finished drug is nowhere near as toxic as some of the chemicals used to make it or for that mater, the chemicals under your kitchen sink. A home previously owned by a painting contractor or a home mechanic would also be covered with residue of hazardous chemicals but nobody is forcing those home demolished.
    So lets every body take a deep breath and calm down. I think a lot of these cases are from people who suffer illness and then make assumptions about the cause. Some are people trying to dump their mortgage. If the contamination that remains even after cleaning, repainting and re-carpeting were really that toxic then we wouldn’t have an ongoing problem with meth because all of the cooks would be dead from exposure.

  11. Thanks for your response Brian. I don’t know what your background is, however the health problems associated with contaminated meth lab homes is well documented. No mention is made of which chemicals were found in these contaminated homes, because that is a private matter between the homeowner, the testing lab, and the testing contractor. The types of chemicals that are detected in a meth lab home test are found elsewhere on this site as well as many other sites, including government websites, educational institutions, chemists, and health experts.

    What they know about some of the chemicals found in former meth lab homes is that they can and do cause health problems, some of which are terminal. Do some research about the health problems that narcotics officers and firefighters have had because of their exposure to the chemicals in meth lab homes.

    Besides the “known” toxic neurological and carcinogenic effects of these chemicals on the human body, there are the “unknown” effects of what the combination of the “molecules” in these chemicals can do to the human body. If you think contaminated meth lab homes are not a health threat, why do professionals wear head-to-toe Hazmat suits and respirators when they enter an active or former meth lab?

    In regard to your opinion that some people are trying to dump their mortgage, all I can say is I think you need to “walk a mile in their shoes”.

    Many who buy homes that they later find out are contaminated have no choice but to let their home fall in to foreclosure. The cost of decontaminating a home can run as high as $150,000.

    Let’s do the math:

    Add the cost of decontaminating a home to your normal mortgage payment, property taxes, and home owner’s insurance, plus the cost of living somewhere else while the house is being made “fit for inhabitation” which can take several months. It’s pretty easy to see that the cost of keeping a home becomes an impossibility for most homeowners.

    You think that dumping the mortgage is the easy way out?

    These people are losing all of their down payment money, as well as all of the bank, insurance, and real estate tax payments they’ve made on the house. Additionally, many are told they have to forfeit EVERYTHING inside the home, including their furniture, appliances, and children’s toys.

    I have a question for you, “would you buy or rent a contaminated former meth lab home with your wife and children”?

  12. CabinInTheWoods says:

    I’m currently looking for a home in the Puget Sound area. Glad I found this article.

    Buying a home that has been used for a meth lab has had me very concerned because I cannot afford much for a home. Less than 125K. Which at the time of this writing will get you into a place. But what kind of home will it be?

    That got me looking for alternatives. Which led me to the idea of building a cabin. I am now looking for land with the thought of putting up an inexpensive cabin. There are some great, medium size cabins you can have set up in a few days. They come from local companies in the Puget Sound area, such as Aurora Quality Homes in Marysville, Wa. Little Green Buildings in Port Angeles, WA and Coast Cabins out of North Bend or Marysville. Google them if you like.

    I’ve seen some of these cabins after they are finished, and I must say they can be really cozy and efficent. Quite nice actually.

    I know a cabin is not an option for everyone. But at least there is no question about the history of the home. And maybe this information will help someone. I believe you can hook more than one cabin together for a bigger home too. And that might be an idea…

    I feel so bad for this family. What a terrible turn of events. You buy something in good faith and this happens. So sad.

    One note about land. You really have to do your homework up front. The cost of land depends on where you buy and whether or not utilities are set up. You have to prepare the land if it isn’t ready. Cleared land with hookups are more expensive. If it doesn’t have electricity on the land you have to pay to have it brought in. It also needs water. Look into that. If it doesn’t have sewer, make sure the land can take a septic tank. Some kinds of soil are more expensive than others to put a tank on.

    Be very careful to budget ALL the costs. Or you could end up with a shell of a home on land that has no utilities. It will take money for the walls, appliances, toilet, etc.

    As with anything, look up the reputation of the companies involved.

    I’d rather offer ideas than criticize these poor people for buying a home in good faith. Nobody needs to be chided after the fact.

    I hope this information is useful to someone out there.

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