The Evans family bought their dream home in a quiet Colorado neighborhood and lived in the home with their three daughters for a year, before a news reporter told them what they should have been told when they bought it. The Evans family home was a former meth lab home and it was still contaminated with toxic chemicals.
In 2007, Albuquerque, New Mexico resident Licia Henderson found what she thought would be the perfect home in Casper, Wyoming. It had two bedrooms, hard wood floors, and new carpeting, according to the realtor’s pictures. It wasn’t a large home, but Licia, a single woman, didn’t require a lot of space. All she needed was a home of her own where she could begin a new chapter in her life in Casper, a city close to 700 hundred miles from her home in Albuquerque.
With the home inspection complete, an acceptance offer from the seller, and a disclosure statement that had nothing but “rental” written across it, Licia made an offer on the home which the seller accepted. Although she had never actually toured the property or the neighborhood, nothing involving the house indicated that it had any major problems. So on April 23, 2007, Licia became the proud owner of a modest home in Casper.
Licia wasted no time in packing up her things and making the 700 mile trip from Albuquerque to her new home. Just two days after the closing, Licia walked through the door of her new home for the very first time.
A week after living in the house, Licia noticed something unusual after turning on the heat – strange pains in her chest and a weird taste in her mouth. Troubled by her new and unusual health problems, Licia discussed them with a new neighbor. It was an enlightening conversation. The neighbor told her what no one else had told her before – she was living in a home where a meth lab bust had taken place in 2005.
By the Fall of 2007, Licia got in touch with a meth lab clean up company out of Idaho and paid to have them perform meth lab testing on her home. The results of their tests revealed that her home was still contaminated and as the owner of the home the financial responsibility for decontaminating the property fell on her shoulders. In November, Licia decided to take legal action against those that she felt should be responsible for the wrong that had been done to her: the seller, the realtor who had found the house for her, the company the realtor worked for, the realtor who represented the seller and the company that they worked for. Henderson’s lawyer also accused the seller’s realtor of “toxic battery” for the health problems that Licia endured as a result of living in a home filled with toxins. The accused have all denied having any responsible for the devastating turn that Licia’s life has taken since she became the owner of a contaminated home.
The end of Licia’s meth lab story is like the ending of many meth lab home buyers. Her house fell in to foreclosure and was sold to someone else. It’s a troubling thought.
According to the Wyoming Department of Health website, “There are no pre-determined clean up levels inside a building or home for many chemicals associated with meth labs. A risk assessment may be necessary in order to evaluate the potential for exposure on a case-by-case basis”. Basically, Wyoming clean up procedures include airing out for 3 to 5 days with household cleaners, after the home has been cleared of “unnecessary items”. They also advise that the ventilation system should also be cleaned and a professional be called to deal with any contamination associated with plumbing. They also warn anyone cleaning the home to wear personal protective equipment during the clean up process.
Wyoming DOH further recommends that “If concerns of contamination remain after cleaning the building, or there is still an odor, visible staining, or physical irritation to those exposed, it’s advisable for a professional to evaluate and test these areas. Testing should also be done if there are concerns with liability issues. Sampling may provide peace of mind for property owners and families and is the most reliable way to measure the effectiveness of clean-up efforts. Guidance and standards are currently available and are being improved as more is learned about meth lab remediation. The owners should consider contacting their insurance carrier for advice and assistance”.
Licia Henderson Video by Dan Cepeda/Star-Tribune
“Cleaning up Hazardous Chemicals at Methamphetamine Laboratories”, Wyoming Department of Health, 08 October 2010, web.
Wolfson, Joshua, “Three years later, meth house still stirs controversy”, Star Tribune, 08, Nov. 2008, web. 08, Nov. 2010
For more information about Wyoming meth lab homes you can contact:
Wyoming Department of Health
2300 Capitol Avenue
Cheyenne, WY 82002
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste
Justin and Kristi Keller of Cannon Falls, Minnesota no longer own a meth lab home. It was sold at a Sheriff’s sale back to their original lender at a significantly reduced price. Although the Kellers paid $250,000 for the home, the home was reportedly bought by Chase Home Finance at a Sheriff’s sale for $219,747.16.
Since the Kellers bought their four bedroom home with six acres of land, their lives like too many others who have bought former meth lab homes, has been turned into a living nightmare. Unable to pay for the decontamination of their home or pay both a mortgage and rent for somewhere else to live, they were left with two choices that no one ever wants to make: bankruptcy or foreclosure. They opted for foreclosure.
What the lender will do with the property is anyone’s guess, but Minnesota Law states that:
The property owner is responsible for the cost of remediation. As with any contracted work, it is in the best interest of the property owner to use caution when hiring someone to provide this service. The property owner should understand the work plan and monitor progress on the site.
The meth legislation, effective January 1, 2006, states that the lab operator (meth cook) can be required to pay restitution to public entities and property owners for costs associated with lab response and remediation. Several meth cooks have entered into repayment agreements with local authorities before and after the effective date of this law.
Minnesota law entitled the Kellers to receive restitution money from the former owners, yet the Kellers never any money from them. Although the former owners were given thirty days to pay the Kellers $100,865.10 for the decontamination of their home, storage fees, and money to rent another home, they never collected any money from them. No payments were made to the Kellers and attaching the paychecks of the sellers was a lost cause – they are unemployed.
For more information read:
All that Kristi and Justin Keller wanted was a home to call their own, where they could someday raise a family of their own. After years of saving their money for a down payment, they found a nice split-level home in Cannon Falls, that appeared to be just what they wanted.
It was an attractive home with 6 acres of land; a place they envisioned would be a wonderful place to raise a family. The icing on the cake was that it was close to the school where Kristi worked, as an elementary school teacher, about 50 miles southeast of Minneapolis.
Kristi says they made sure that the foundation was solid, the basement was dry, the roof was in good shape, and the house was structurally sound. It all check out. No major problems. So, in December of 2006, they signed paperwork from the seller, that contained a disclosure statement about meth labs. “No” was checked off on the form. It was all good.
A window had been painted over with black paint.
A shed had vents in it and it locked “from the inside” and there were fuel tanks, that Kristi couldn’t make sense of.
Krista says she began researching the Internet for answers, but it was a discussion with a neighbor that provided her with the truth. Kristi and Justin’s new dream home had been used as a meth lab for years, but it had never been busted. It was something that Kristi and Justin had never considered. Neither one of them knew anything about drugs and none of the many books they bought about buying a house had warned them about buying a former meth lab home.
Within a few hours of talking to her neighbor, Kristi and Justin left their home, in fear of getting sick from the chemicals that remained in the house. Kristi then called the police department and the sheriff’s office to ask if the home had a drug history. The answer was “no”. The only problem that police noted about the house is that there had been three complaints about the house. All of them involved domestic disputes. Nothing was ever mentioned about drugs.
One police report noted that during one of those disturbances, one of the owners of the house threw a baggie at them that they said contained meth. A note about the incident noted that the substance inside the bag tested negative for methamphetamine. Deputies of the Goodhue County Sheriff’s office said they always suspected that the previous owners may have been involved in something illegal, but they never had enough evidence for a search warrant or an arrest.
The seller’s disclosure form, which became required by law in Minnesota in 2005, read “Seller is not aware of any methamphetamine production has occurred on the property.” The disclosure holds sellers liable to the buyer for the cost of the meth lab clean up and attorney fees, if it is determined that the seller lied about the property. But, sellers who lie on the form can not be charged with criminal penalties, under the state’s law.
In June of 2008, the Kellers had their home professionally tested by an environmental testing company for a cost of $1,500. Those tests showed that their home was highly contaminated. They took the matter to court and a judge ordered the previous owner to pay them $100,000, of which, they have received nothing. The previous owner’s lawyer says his client doesn’t have the money to pay them.
The meth lab clean up bill, according to an estimate they received, is $30,000, a cost they aren’t willing to pay. They are too afraid of what’s unknown about the long-term health effects of living in a home that is filled with chemical contaminants. They are talking to their legislators about their home buying experience though and asking that changes be made to the current law.
One option they are considering is making it a crime for a seller to lie on a disclosure form. Another option, they’re considering, is to make sure that real estate agents know about meth labs. Minnesota Representative Doug Magnus does not want to require that a home be tested for meth before it’s sold though, because the testing cost so much. He is considering having the septic systems tested for meth, as a way of determining if a home was used as a meth lab, because he says it’s less expensive.
In the meantime, Kristi and Justin are left with few options. The option they are considering taking is letting the home fall in to foreclosure, an option that will ruin the good credit they once had. The Kellers, like other innocent families who unknowingly buy a contaminated meth lab home, just want to leave their experience in the past so they can regain their strength to begin again.
Meth Lab Homes comment:
If a test had been required on the home before it was sold, this unfortunate experience would never would have happened to the Kellers and others like them, who are essentially victims of the meth lab epidemic in America. The cost of the testing, $1,500 that was paid by the Kellers should have been paid by the seller before they were allowed to put the property up for sale. Sellers can always add the cost of testing to the sale price of the home. With a “clean bill of health” on their home, it would make it alot easier for them to sell their house, as well!
“Meth turns MN dream home into nightmare”, CBS Channel 11, http://cbs11tv.com/national/home.meth.Minnesota.2.643326.html, 1/31/08, accessed 8/28/09
Read the latest update to this story:
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.
Jason Dowdell and Michelle Dilorenzo, a Missouri couple, should have known they were buying a contaminated meth lab home, according to the state’s disclosure law, but they didn’t. No one told them that the three bedroom house they bought would endanger their health and the health of the future children that they hoped to share their new home with. They found out two years after living in it.
An article published by the St. Louis Dispatch says that “One out of every five of the country’s more than 100,000 meth labs has been found in Missouri and Illinois, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Police have found remnants of meth-making equipment and toxic byproducts inside homes, apartments and hotels, as well as dumped along roadways, in yards and cars.” The article goes on to say that despite the prevalence of meth labs, many homes remain contaminated, after police box up the chemicals they find on site, despite a decade of national health experts testifying that exposure to residue in the contaminated homes leads to health problems.
Two years after buying their home, Jason Dowdell and Michelle Dilorenzo, felt the devastating impact that happens when some one finds out they have been living in what the government considers a hazardous waste site. During those two years, Michelle suffered headaches that were so bad, they caused her to vomit, a problem she says she never had before she moved in to their contaminated home. She says she also experienced nausea and wheezing after moving in to the home, but doctors could not say, for sure, that the contaminants caused her health problems. Yet, her symptoms over the two years she lived in the house are far from being rare, among meth lab home owners. Despite the lack of “proof” from doctors, Dowdell and Dilorenzo have decided not to allow their younger siblings stay at their home overnight, anymore.
In the summer of 2008, the couple thought they’d plant some perennials in their flower garden, but quickly changed their minds, when they found needles, foils, funnels, and chemical containers, in the garden area. Police told them that the materials they found were remnants from the meth lab that has once operated on what was now, their property.
Michell Lorenzo and Jason Dowdell are now faced with the decisions that face those who find out they bought a former meth lab. They can either get the home cleaned up and make it safe to live in or they can let it fall in to foreclosure and lose everything they have invested in to it. Because Missouri law doesn’t make a meth lab home owner decontaminate the property, before it gets sold, the couple could also opt to sell it, as long as they disclose it to the new buyer. The sale price of the home, however, will be significantly less than they paid for it. Either way, the cost of buying a contaminated home will cost them thousands of dollars.
After finding out about their meth lab home, another home went up for sale on their street. Curious about whether or not that home might be contaminated, Michelle decided to look it up on the DEA website. Sure enough, the house was listed on the DEA’s site. Soon after, the “for sale” sign came down, when a young couple moved in.
The investigative story by the St. Louis Dispatch found that homes are routinely rented and sold to unsuspecting individuals and families, which violates Missouri law. In tests they conducted on five Missouri homes, their reports showed that all 5 of those homes were contaminated. Jason Dowdell’s reaction to the report helped put those test results in perspective – “If five of five homes came back positive, imagine if you tested 100 homes,and then imagine how many times those homes have been sold and resold.”
You’re right Jason, it’s troubling to think about how many of these contaminated homes still exist not only in MO and IL, but all across the country. Every day that goes by, puts another person, another child, another family, another family’s pet, at risk of becoming sick from the chemicals inside of these contaminated homes. Legislators need to take action – yesterday.
For more about this story, please read:
“Are you living in a former meth lab”? by Christine Byers, St. Louis Dispatch, 9/10/08, http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/35F16EA802D11D50862574DF002C83DA?OpenDocument
Stow, Ohio: Andrea Wagner bought a meth lab home on Meadowbrook Boulevard for $147,000,in January 2006, not knowing that she was buying a home contaminated with meth lab chemicals. The seller, who bought the home at a Sheriff’s auction never told her and Wagner never questioned it. All she knew was that the house looked like it would be a great place to raise her two young children, who were 6 and 3 years old, at that time. She had no idea that police had found so much meth lab equipment, meth, and meth lab chemicals inside the home in May of 2004, that it took a HazMat contractor over 7 hours to remove them from the home.
Andrea Wagner was newly divorced and the home seemed perfect. It was on a quiet street, lined by trees, and there was a pond not far from the home’s spacious yard. Wagner’s view of the home soon changed. While she was unloading some items to take inside her home one day, a woman stopped her car to ask her about the former meth lab home. Afraid of what she’d been told, she immediately called the Stow police to find out if what the woman had told her was true. She says the police didn’t have any record of the bust, so she put the thought behind her.
As time went by though, her children began to have health problems that included coughing, headaches, and skin and sinus infections. Andrea was having migraine headaches. About a year later, a police officer told her that he had been one of the police officers involved in the meth lab bust at her home. To confirm his story, he then showed her the address of her house on a list of contaminated homes that was recorded by the DEA. She was terrified of the danger that she and her children now faced living in a toxin filled home.
She took her children to their grandmother’s house, where they would stay until she figured out what to do. She would eventually move out of the home too, after realizing the threat to her health if she remained in the home. Her next step would be to contact a lawyer to see if she could sue the seller for the wrong that had been done to her and her children. The clean up of her meth lab home had been estimated at about $70,000.
Andrea Wagner stopped paying her mortgage and had the utilities shut off and soon after the mortgage company began proceedings to foreclose on her home, for non-payment. The bank didn’t want to hear her story. From the bank’s viewpoint, the problem with Andrea’s situation was between her and the seller. They still wanted the payments that she had agreed to make to them.
Andrea now owned a home that she and her children could no longer live in, nor could they take any of their belongings with them. She decided to try to sue the seller for not disclosing that the home had been a former meth lab. The lawsuit, according to her lawyer, was unique in the state of Ohio, at that time. While legislators were still deciding about a seller’s responsibility to disclose if a home had been used to make meth, Andrea’s lawyer argued that state disclosure laws already spelled it out – sellers had to disclose if the home contained hazardous materials. The contaminants that remain in a home where meth is made, he said, would constitute hazardous materials.
McRae, Arkansas: Hazel and Clarence Cornell lived in a trailer for a year, after they found out that the home they bought in 2001 had once been used as a meth lab. Soon after they unknowingly bought the former meth house, health problems began. Clarence couldn’t breath and “turned white as a sheet”, when something in the house irritated his lungs, which had already been compromised by emphysema. Hazel also had chronic bronchitis. Hazel attributed the respiratory problems to the shampoo they used to clean the rugs in the house.
The Cornells, like most people, didn’t find out that they were living in a meth house, until they started talking to their neighbors. When Hazel began telling their neighbors about the health problems they were having, she says the neighbor asked her if she knew she was living in a meth lab. They didn’t. No one had told them, including the realtor.
The couple moved out of the house in to a trailer home on their property, unable to take salvage everything they’d worked so hard to get for 45 years. Everything in their house was contaminated. The kitchen sink had green stains in it, stains that Hazel said was leftover meth residue. The ovens in her kitchen were contaminated too and she worried about that because she baked bread in those ovens. Her suspicions about her house being contaminated were confirmed when test results showed that the amount of meth contamination in their home was 72 times above the acceptable level of methamphetamine, according to Arkansas health standards. Decontaminating their home would cost them $50,000, according to an estimate they received.
Arkansas law required the realtor who sold them home to tell them if the home had been used as a meth lab. The realtor said that no one was ever arrested on meth charges at their home, but the Cornells say that police reports and bench warrants prove that there was. The Cornell’s decided it was time to let a judge decide and they filed a lawsuit against the realtor in April 2005.
Meth labs in Arkansas showed an increase in 2008, yet law enforcement seems not to be as aware about meth labs as they should be. To view the article and video that I posted about the increase in meth labs in Arkansas, click here.
If you know anything of further updates to the Cornell story, please contact me at methlabhomes at gmail dot com
In 2004, Rhonda and Jason Holt bought a home in Winchester, TN, never knowing that the home they were buying was a former meth lab. For the last 5 years, they have been living in a contaminated meth lab home with their 3 children.
Last month, Rhonda introduced herself to me through an email and we have kept in touch over the last few weeks. Although Rhonda told me some of what her family had gone through in her emails, it wasn’t until I spoke to her by phone recently, that I began to gain a better understanding of what she and her family have been through and continue to go through today.
If you are thinking of buying or renting a home and you have young children, Rhonda and I strongly encourage you to listen and learn from her testimony, which will be presented here on Meth Lab Homes, through a series of podcasts.
If you missed reading Rhonda’s first email to me, you can still read it in the Viewer Letters section of Meth Lab Homes. It is called “Family sickened by chemicals in former meth lab home asks for help“.
Part I – Ever since we bought the house . . .
*click on the play button (the triangle shape) to listen to what Rhonda told Meth Lab Homes about her family’s experience. Note: The audio begins after a short delay.
If you would like to help Jason and Rhonda, you can send a donation of money to the Jason and Rhonda Holt Fund at Citizens Community Bank. They are facing tremendous financial costs right now that includes paying their medical bills.
Channel 5 Video about the Holt Family
Listen as Rhonda explains to me what happened during and after the birth of her children, her husband’s kidney problems, and her disabling migraine headaches.
Part 2 – Interview with Rhonda Holt
*click on the play button (the triangle shape) to listen to what Rhonda told Meth Lab Homes about her family’s experience.