When I bought my home in early 2004, I thought I was paving the way for a better life for my family. Now, just three years later, I am facing financial ruin because of it. You may be asking yourself, how did this happen? I know I have. You may also be asking yourself, why should I care? I’ll tell you why, because it could happen to you.
In early 2004 my family decided to purchased a foreclosed home in East Tennessee. We were living in Rhode Island and looking for a place we could raise our family where housing prices weren’t so expensive. The home, as we were told, had some cosmetic damages, but otherwise it appeared to be in good condition. We bought the house knowing that it would need some minor cosmetic repairs. We were never told it had been the home of a meth lab. In fact, we hadn’t even heard about meth labs until we moved down here.
So just how did we discover the home had been used as a meth lab? We found out the old fashioned way, from our neighbors. They informed us that the previous occupant had been arrested in a drug bust at the house. This was after we’d been living in the house for several months. We didn’t think much of it, because we didn’t know the extent of how dangerous it would be to our health and finances. I guess we assumed it was no different than other narcotics that, while dangerous to the user, have little impact on those around it. We pretty much shrugged it off and figured that’d be the last we’d hear of it. Boy were we wrong…
Fast forward to the year 2007. Work is going well and life seems to be looking up for my family. We are now in a position where we’d like to move out of our doublewide trailer home and move into a nicer home closer to the city. We had a realtor come by and the good news is that with a little work the home could sell for a bit more than we paid for it, which we thought was unusual since doublewides depreciate in value. Excited, we began to make plans to look at other homes. The realtor noticed some of the damage and asked about the home’s condition and about our prior purchase. We notified her of what we’d heard from the neighbors, and she became greatly concerned. Apparently many realtors are required to attend special training in Tennessee to learn about meth now. She began telling us how dangerous it can be and that we should try and research into exactly what happened.
We began our search at the nearby county sheriff’s office. They provided us with a copy of the police report. Sure enough, there had been an arrest in 2003 of several people at the home, and there were also various meth cooking tools and actual cooked meth confiscated. We spoke to our realtor and she advised us to get an attorney. We called dozens of attorneys, and each said they couldn’t handle this type of case and proceeded to refer us to another number. So did we give up? No, we dug further. We found out that a letter had been sent to various departments back in 2003 including the registrar of deeds in our county. We obtained a copy of this letter, a letter written by the arresting officer back in 2003, which stated the house could still contain contaminants because there had been a drug bust there. I called more attorneys and was again told that they couldn’t help me. I called the Department of Environment and Conservation and they recommended having the home tested. They also told me that it sounded like I was going to get stuck with the bill. What was that? It’s OUR problem?
The reason is became our problem was that we were a victim of the law, or rather, the lack of law.
- When we purchased our home in 2004 as a foreclosure, we were required to sign a notice stating that the seller (the foreclosing bank) was exempt from providing a property disclosure because they hadn’t lived in the home. This is standard procedure, so we signed it.
- The registrar of deeds in our county is not required to affix letters of this nature to the deed. This means, according to the title insurance company’s letter denying my claim, that a title search will not find any record of it, so they are not responsible.
- New laws passed in 2005 require all homes involved in meth lab busts to be professionally cleaned before anyone can live in or sell the home. Our home was purchased in 2004, so instead of being protected, we are now a victim of the new laws. We can’t sell our home because it hasn’t been cleaned. We had testing done, costing well over a thousand dollars, and have now been told that the home is heavily contaminated.
So if the bank claims they didn’t know about it, they won’t take responsibility for it. The realtor didn’t know because there was no record of it found by the title search company and because the bank didn’t know. The title search company didn’t know because the documentation on it is kept in a separate file at the registrar of deeds that is not part of the title search. It seems, rather conveniently for all major parties involved, that they are all exempted from any blame. Instead, our family of four, made of a working father, a stay at home mother, and two young preschool children are being told to suffer the loss.
We are trying now to contact attorneys who can help us do something about this. New laws in effect as of 2005 are protecting people now, but what about families like mine that have been left to slip between the cracks? We were not protected, and now we are victims twice over. Not only has my family lived amongst this hidden toxic contamination, but now we face the choices of paying huge cleanup costs and selling a house that will be forever labeled a former meth lab, or perhaps we can have the home destroyed and sell the land off. Either way, we face the distinct possibility of losing tens of thousands of dollars since we will not make enough to pay off the existing mortgage. We are asking for help. If you are a lawyer, or know a lawyer who can advise and assist us, please email us. We are just a working class family trying to make a better life for our children. Thank you for your time and support.