Texas Homebuyers Encountering Meth Contamination

Homebuyers in Texas are increasingly encountering unexpected problems – methamphetamine contamination – that may lead to changes in state law.

Experts say meth contamination of apartments, hotel rooms, houses, storage sheds and even cars is more common than people may imagine. Meth-making or heavy use can leave chemicals in carpets, air ducts and attics. And without proper cleanup, experts say, the chemicals linger and expose people to health risks.

“We get calls once a week from people who are the innocent victims – who have nothing to do with drugs or dope,” said Kirk Flippin, owner of Texas Decon, a New Braunfels company that tests for meth labs and does cleanups.

Although Texas home sellers are required by law to disclose knowledge of a house being used as a meth lab, experts said the law is not strong enough to protect buyers.

Flippin said Texas needs laws requiring complete disclosure of places contaminated by the manufacture of meth or heavy use. Experts said Texas also needs clearer guidelines on cleanup.

House Bill 23, introduced this session by state Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, would require landlords to disclose previous use of leased premises for manufacture of methamphetamine, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in Sunday editions.

The Rodriguez family in North Texas knows all too well about problems with the state law.

On the seller’s disclosure notice for the three-bedroom home in Grapevine the Rodriguezes bought in October, “no” is marked next to a question about knowledge of previous use of premises for manufacture of methamphetamine. It’s listed in the same section that asks for disclosure of wood rot, termites and fires.

But just weeks after they moved in, their dog Bruin started having seizures and had to be euthanized. After the dog’s sudden death, they began to hear rumors that methamphetamine may have been used in their house. The couple hired a company to check the house for chemicals and discovered traces of meth contamination.

While the cause of the dog’s death was not determined, the couple believe the house is not safe to live in.

“We wouldn’t have bought it had we known,” Francisca Rodriguez said.

The Rodriguezes, who have three children, moved out in December and are now renting another house while they figure out what to do with the 1,430-square-foot house, which is under foreclosure.

Real estate agents in the case said the sale was made in good faith.

Under Texas law, if buyers suspect improper disclosure, they can file a complaint with the Texas Real Estate Commission, and the issue can be investigated. The Texas Property Code also requires the seller’s real estate agent to disclose any significant defect.

The previous owner, Joseph Hasen, is serving a 12-year sentence in a Texas prison for three convictions on different charges: two counts of possession of a controlled substance, the date-rape drug GHB, and one charge of possession with intent to deliver meth.

While Grapevine police records show that no meth lab was found at the house, a preliminary assessment through APEX BioClean found traces of the drug in the attic, three bedrooms and other areas.

Thomas Cox, a Dallas attorney who represented Hasen, said his client did not leave the house contaminated and “does not believe any methamphetamines associated with him would be the cause of the dog’s death. He is sorry about the passing of the dog.”

Making methamphetamine involves mixing substances that can be explosive and highly toxic, experts said. Even when meth is not cooked on a stove top, experts have found contamination from heavy meth use.

When authorities break up a meth lab, the property owner is responsible for cleaning up the structure, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Even though meth lab materials are removed, contamination may be left behind.

Flippin, who is certified for cleanup in several states, said Texas has no cleanup guidelines. Often, the property owners find out from neighbors that their home was once a suspected meth lab or that suspected users lived there.

Francisca Rodriguez said she wants people to know about the meth contamination to keep others from facing a similar situation.

“This could happen to anybody,” she said. “It’s not like this is a trashy area. It could happen to anybody looking for a house.”