Pubdate: Wed, 20 Mar 2013
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2013 The Denver Post Corp
Author: Tom McGhee
Page: 1A



Anne-Marie Cory and her partner spent the better part of a year
looking for a dream home in Longmont that fit their budget. They had
the property under contract when they discovered that a former
occupant had been a methamphetamine smoker. Tests came back positive
for the drug.

"We didn't want to bring a baby into a house contaminated with meth,"
said Cory, who was pregnant at the time.

Erik Nelson, then a real estate agent who had bought the home to fix
up and sell, spent about $26,000 on meth testing, cleanup and then
retesting to ensure it was safe for Cory to move in.

Other buyers have discovered such contamination too late, losing
thousands of dollars and winding up with homes that had to be stripped
to the studs. "It is certainly a problem, how big it is is hard to
quantify," said Colleen Brisnehan, an environmental protection
specialist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and

No one knows how many homes along the Front Range are contaminated by
meth, and there is no requirement to test for it unless evidence of
meth use is already known.

But state and industry officials say, as more testing is done, they
are discovering more meth-contaminated properties, particularly among
foreclosed or rental homes that are coming back on the market amid a
housing recovery.

"Buyer beware"

Not all of these homes are meth labs where the drug was cooked. Homes
can be left toxic if someone has simply smoked methamphetamine a few
times. The drug can leave behind toxins that cause respiratory and
other illnesses.

"It is definitely buyer beware," said Timothy Gablehouse, a lawyer who
handles environmental contamination cases. He recommends testing if
there is anything about the home's history that raises alarms.

About half of the properties tested by Weecycle Environmental
Consulting are positive for meth, said Judy Sawitsky, an industrial
hygienist and president of the Boulder firm. Weecycle tests for meth,
asbestos and other contamination.

About one-third of properties that test positive have levels of
contamination high enough to require some cleanup under state
standards, she added.

The problem is greatest among rental properties, particularly those in
the low-to average-cost ranges, said Jim Dennison, president of
Century Environmental Hygiene in Fort Collins.

"Meth can be detected in homes after a small number of uses, and the
residues persist in homes for many years, meaning that if anyone ever
smoked meth there in the past, it may show up in a test. So, while
most people do not use meth, many houses are still affected," Dennison

Foreclosures also test positive more often than homes occupied by the
same owner for years, Dennison said.

Colorado's Neighborhood Stabilization Program operated in areas with
high foreclosure rates, purchasing, renovating and selling 167 single
family homes and 139 multifamily rental units, according to Patrick
Coyle, director of the Colorado Division of Housing.

Of those, 7 percent of the single-family properties were contaminated,
and 11 percent of the multifamily units were, Coyle said.

Aurora, Englewood, Jefferson, Adams, Denver, Douglas, Pueblo, Weld,
Broomfield and El Paso counties participated in the program.

"Weld and Pueblo were the two local programs that purchased the most
homes with meth," Coyle said in an e-mail.

Norris Minick, a buyer's agent, said his company, Agents for
Homebuyers, tests all homes it handles, splitting the cost of
screening with potential buyers.

But throughout the industry, Minick said, testing is

Most agents believe contamination is rare, and few are willing to
consider it might be common.

"It is such a frightful thing it is almost impossible to face," Minick

Most buyers are unaware of the potential for disaster in buying a
contaminated home.

"I talk to all my friends who are buying houses, everybody says,
'You'll know, there will be some sign.' But you knowwhat? You won't.
This house was so clean," Cory said of her home.

Colorado requires sellers to disclose if a home has been contaminated
by the drug, unless it has been cleaned up. But owners don't always
know if meth, which can linger on surfaces, in carpets, drywall and
duct work for years, has been used in the home.

Warning signs

There are often noticeable signs-people coming and going at all
hours, strange smells, large amounts of trash-when a house or
apartment is used to manufacture the drug. But it is harder to detect
a user who smokes in private, Brisnehan said.

Law enforcement agencies report labs to county health departments when
they find them, she said. "They say they find about 10 percent of the
labs out there."

But there is no notification to health officials that would identify
the homes of those busted for smoking meth.

"Most people don't let their neighbors know that they are meth users,"
Brisnehan said. "Often they are renters, sometimes a grandparent owns
the home and the grandchild is the user."

Colorado law requires remediation for homeswhere testing finds more
than .05 micrograms of meth in a space about 3.5 inches square.

The state labels any house where contamination is above state levels a
meth lab. However, most homes that test above that level aren't labs
at all, just places where the drug was smoked, Minick said.

Minick and others want the Colorado Real Estate Commission to include
a strong recommendation for testing in real estate contracts.

State Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, introduced a bill last year that
would have required local governments to test buildings after they had
been cleaned up.

The bill would have required those convicted of methamphetamine-related
offenses to pay a surcharge to fund the testing.

She said she plans to reintroduce the bill, which would include homes
where meth was smoked, as well as where it was cooked, this year.

Ideally, she said, testing for meth in a for-sale property would be

"I would like to make it all sellers, but at this time we can't do
that," she said. "We get a lot of push-back from Realtors on this
issue. The onus is on the seller; you want to make it so that testing
is mandatory."

Minick's agency splits the $375 cost of a basic screening that can
detect the presence, but not the level of contamination in the home,
with buyers, he said.

Sawitsky's firm charges $325 to screen for the drug's presence and
from $1,400 to $2,200 to test for levels.

Once the house has been cleaned up, it must be tested again to be sure
all traces are gone, said Lynda Fratis, office manager atWeecycle.

"If it has been freshly painted it has to be gutted, it can't be
cleaned. You have encapsulated it in the paint, but it keeps seeping
out," Fratis said.

Gablehouse said he hears from many people who find contamination in a
home they bought and want to sue.

"Two-thirds of the time you can't make a case because it is clear that
nobody had knowledge of the problem," he said.

Particularly in deals involving short sales and foreclosures, there
can be a string of occupants in a home before meth is discovered.

"The real estate disclosure law is based on knowledge. When you do a
lot of real estate flips there is enough distance between the person
selling and the meth user," to make it impossible to place blame,
Gablehouse said.

Most buyers find out they may have bought a contaminated home when
they meet the neighbors, Gablehouse said.

"The classic scenario is the house is fixed up and on the market," he
said. "They are in the process of moving in and a neighbor comes over
with a fruit basket and says, 'Oh, by the way, did you know this is a
meth house?' "
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