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The Dangers of Buying a Former Meth Lab House as a Chicago Investment Property

While doing an inspection on a potential investment property, I encountered a neighbor in the front yard. I don’t want to say she was the nosy type, but she definitely wanted to know what I was doing there. When I told her, she clucked her tongue and shook her head at me saying, “You know, that family has been so sick ever since they moved in. The dad can’t even work anymore.” My ears pricked up. I hadn’t seen any signs of mold and radon contamination isn’t overly common in this area. The neighbor went on to mention that the former owners had been involved in some questionable activities and police had raided the property on at least one occasion. I quickly realized that we could be dealing with a former meth house, so I decided to take a closer look.

You’ll need to do your research to determine if former meth lab houses are a good investment or not. Some researchers rank Illinois as the state with the highest rate of methamphetamine lab and dumpsite seizures, according to their latest statistics. Meth use and manufacturing can pose significant health hazards, which may endanger the home’s occupants for years to come. As a result, it can also reduce the value of a house. While sellers are technically required to disclose meth activity, there’s no certainty that they will do so. That’s why you have to do your own due diligence.

Why it’s Important to Know About Meth Contamination

Clandestine methamphetamine or “meth” laboratories may be located in apartments or houses and the resulting property contamination can lead to some very serious health effects. It is a potent street drug that is made with a variety of different volatile organic chemicals, acids, bases, metals, and chemical salts—all of which can combine to create other harmful chemicals that pollute and contaminate a property. Exposure to even a small amount of meth residue can cause the same symptoms that meth users experience, as well as headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and breathing difficulties. Chemicals from producing or smoking meth can permeate a structure’s walls, ceilings, air ducts, and carpeting.

As a result of the growing public health problems affecting unsuspecting homeowners, Illinois updated the Residential Real Property Disclosure Act to include meth-related activity in 2009. The Act requires sellers to disclose whether the property is “known” to have been used as a place to manufacture meth. This legislation is designed to alert potential home buyers to the fact that the property may be contaminated. However, one can assume that this is predicated upon a seller’s honest admission of the property’s involvement in illegal activity. Some may not even be aware of any methamphetamine-related activities. Even more difficult, the legislation may be fairly useless in preventing a situation where an individual unknowingly acquires a home that causes adverse health effects.

If it’s Not Disclosed, How Will I Know?

Testing a house for meth contamination is relatively cheap and easy, but remediation is not. Kits can be purchased online for under $50 and the testing simply involves swabbing a few surfaces. But, if meth contamination is found, cleaning up the residue can be cost prohibitive.

In a nutshell, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends removing all contaminated materials, including carpeting and drapes, then enclosing the entire home to scrub the walls, floors, and other hard surfaces. Additionally, the plumbing and ventilation systems must be cleaned. Alternatively, you could hire a contractor to do the cleanup, but that may run you between $3,000 and $25,000. That’s a significant cost for making a house habitable!

How to Spot a Potential Meth House

While testing for meth may give you a definitive answer about whether the house is contaminated, there are clues you can look for to help you decided whether or not it’s necessary. Most of these houses show telltale signs of meth production. From structural appearances to small, seemingly unsuspicious signs, it’s important to investigate thoroughly. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Unusual ventilation. The meth manufacturing process creates toxic fumes that result in a need for added ventilation. Often, you will find odd setups for fans, furnace blowers, and other ventilation systems within a house.
  • Strange odors. A house that has been used as a meth lab may have a powerful smell akin to paint thinner, vinegar, or even an ammonia-laden pet urine.
  • Elaborate security.  Meth production is illegal and those who engage in it commonly devise elaborate security measures. You may see extra locks on the doors, shuttered windows, numerous “No Trespassing” signs, or sophisticated surveillance systems on the property.
  • Dead landscaping. It’s not uncommon for meth makers to just dump their toxic waste into their yards, leaving burn spots that kill all of the vegetation.
  • Unconventional trash.  A lot of trash is created in the process of making meth. You may find packaging from cold medicine, empty containers of antifreeze or acetone with puncture holes, rubber gloves or respiratory masks laying around.

More than any visual inspection, a check with law enforcement can uncover a house’s history as a meth lab. The Chicago Police Department should have the most comprehensive records of former meth lab properties. Beyond their criminal documentation, they may also receive reports from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency via the Illinois State Police. In addition, you may also check out the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) website, which lists known meth lab properties.

Adjusting Your Offer Price for a Meth Lab House

If you are looking at a distressed property for sale and see even subtle signs of meth use, you may consider adjusting your offer price accordingly. The time and cost of rehabilitating a meth house can be substantial. To fully account for all the costs of renovating a property before making a decision to purchase, I use HomeVestors® proprietary software, ValueChek™. Being a HomeVestors franchisee provides me with tools and resources that other investors just don’t have at their fingertips when making time-sensitive determinations about the purchase of distressed properties. I would love to tell you more about how I contribute to Chicago’s revitalization efforts, so get in touch today!

Each franchise office is independently owned and operated.

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