The Hankins fit the picture of a plucky young family buying a fixer-upper– a foreclosed home in small-town Klamath Falls, Ore. for $36,000–that might need some loving attention, some paint, some repairs, but all that was well in the capabilities of the optimistic crew. But after moving in and hitting it with some paint, Beth Hankins, an ER nurse, Jonathon, her husband, and their 2-year-old son, Ezra, started getting sick.
After a few weeks, Beth fond herself short of breath, Jonathon had migraine headaches and nose bleeds, and little Ezra started getting mouth sores. “He couldn’t even drink water without being in pain,” said Jonathon.
Confused by the assortment of ailments, the family was set to visit the doctor when a neighbor gave them insight: the house was a former meth house. Jonathon discovered with a $50 testing kit that it was a meth house — and how! It had 80 times the Oregon Health Authority limits.
He immediately moved his family into a rental, as a matter of course, but now had a problem. The house was an “as-is” Freddie Mac house, who are not responsible for cleaning up the house, as they were ignorant of this part of its history and so not responsible for reporting it to the couple. That means that with due sympathy for the young upstarts, they have no obligation to help them. “We certainly empathize with the situation, but we had no prior information about the way the house had been used,” said Freddie Mac Spokesman Brad German to Yahoo News. “If we had, of course, we would have disclosed it.”
Jonathon’s attorney confirmed that the “as-is” clause in their contract might be insurmountable.
So why not just clean it up himself? Well that could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $150,000, and in Hankins’s case they’ve been quoted at more than the house is worth.
This is not an isolated incident. Only one in ten meth labs is ever busted by the government, and there is an estimated 2.5 million meth-contaminated homes in the U.S. Joe Mazzuca of Meth Lab Cleanup says that “The signs and indicators aren’t always there. You don’t always see the meth residue. It’s extremely dangerous stuff.”
Mazzuca also relates the continual calls he gets — “a call very three to five minutes” — over a recently purchased house haunted with meth. There are many stories such as that of a man from Michigan, where there is no law that a meth-history has to be disclosed: “He just buried his 14-year-old daughter after living in it for two years. I could tell you stories like that for days.”
Wary homebuyers should talk with their future neighbors to see if they have insight, they should check the DEA’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register, and they should buy a testing kit — which at $50 is worth it considering the nightmare the Hankins bought into.