I can recall joking with a friend some years ago that I wasn't really sure how one uses the drug called Meth. Do you shoot it, smoke it, sniff it, whiff it or what? Neither of us could figure it out. (I'll give you the answer at the end of this post.)
Now, sadly, I know more than I want to about the stuff. That's because, as a Realtor, it's important to be able to spot the signs of possible Meth contamination in a property for sale. This often comes up with investors who are looking at lower priced properties, but don't be lulled into a sense of complacency if you're buying high end. Meth labs have been found in properties that range from trailers to lovely suburban neighborhoods.
Methamphetamine is a drug commonly called "Meth," but also known as "speed," "crystal," "ice" and a bunch of other nicknames that most of us don't even know. Lack of knowledge about Meth -- and about the houses where it has been made -- now falls into the category of "what you don't know CAN hurt you."
How can it hurt? When a house that had been used to manufacture Meth is abandoned and the lab is shut down, the property may remain contaminated with the volitile organic chemicals (VOCs) used in the meth-making process. Those VOCs include a variety acids, bases, metals and chemical salts. Those same metals and chemical salts can cause decreased mental function, anemia, kidney problems and even birth defects.
Entering a home -- and worse yet -- buying a home that is contaminated with these chemicals' residue can give you nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and confusion. Dizziness, vomiting and breathing difficulties also have been reported. Some VOCs are known cancer-causing agents.
Just recently Illinois has wisely added a new line to its Residential Real Property Disclosure report. It asks the homeowner to disclose if the property being listed for sale has ever been used as a Meth lab -- meaning a place where methamphetamine has been produced.
So who is responsible for cleaning up a property that had been used to make meth? It's the owner. And the owner might also be responsible if people get sick after they enter a contaminated property. Investors and landlords, take note. If you own it, it's your problem, even if it was the tenant who caused the contamination.
There's no safe level of exposure to Meth, so until a property formerly used to make it has been decontaminated, no one should enter. And, it goes without saying that no one should buy or rent a place that has been used as a Meth lab unless a cleanup executed to OSHA standards has taken place.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) keeps a list of properties that have formerly been used as Meth labs available on its web site at http://www.dea.gov. That list is not all inclusive as there may be contaminated houses that were never reported to the government or any law enforcement agency. Buyers also should contact local police or sheriff's department prior to writing an offer on a home that they suspect may have issues. They are the best source of information for Meth and also for general neighborhood safety and security questions.
So, investors and residential buyers, what do you look for that might signal that a home you're considering buying or rehabbing has been used for Meth production? Here are a few questions to ask:
- Does the home (if still occupied) have a lot of visitors at odd hours who just stay for a short period of time?
- Are there strange items in the trash such as fuel cans and antifreeze containers?
- Landlords, are your tenants making their rent payments in cash?
- Have the tenants/owners blacked out the windows to keep people from seeing into the home?
- Are there strong chemical odors in the house? (Some of those smells can resemble ether, which is that old-time doctor's office smell; cat urine; or strong ammonia.)
- Do you see propane tanks with blue corrosion around the valves or stripped batteries or red-stained walls in the home?
That's your quick crash course in Meth labs for today. I hope it helps you make wise choices if you're a landlord, investor, prospective renter or a residential buyer.
The answer to the question in the first paragraph? Apparently Meth must be the world's most flexible illiegal narcotic, because the answer is, "yes, all of the above." Users smoke it, inject it, inhale it or swallow it.
PS -- Two important things: 1.) Don't forget that active Meth labs have a propensity for blowing up when the "cooking" goes awry, so stay away. 2.) Don't ever confront someone you suspect of manufacturing Meth. There is a lot of money on the line in this criminal enterprise and they are not playing. Call the police and do not put yourself in danger.
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REMAX Preferred Partners is located at One 157 Center, Edwardsville, IL 62025, 618-791-8007 (direct) 618-655-1188 (office). We're easy to find on IL-157 in Edwardsville between Pasta House Co. and Shenanigans. Each office is independently owned and operated.