How to Tell If You Are Buying a Meth House

Written by | Updated April 2, 2019

Before you sign the paperwork on a new place, it’s smart to know about past residents and the home’s history—your new nest might have a sordid past that could hurt your family’s health. While home meth production has declined since 2004, the DEA reports that thousands of homes seized since then could still be contaminated.1 Plus, only 27 states require this information to be disclosed, and laws vary widely between each location.2

The worst part is, once purchased, the home is yours to clean. Local services and home inspectors often offer testing and cleaning, but the process can be expensive and cost thousands of dollars. Learn how to tell if your home was a meth house and what to do about it.

Be Suspicious of Strong Odors

It’s normal for old homes to smell musty, but meth labs leave a signature scent. So put your nose to the ground and sniff for any suspicious smells like ammonia, rotten eggs, or vinegar. These smells are a red flag for any property, so be sure to ask the hard questions before buying.

Note Unsanitary Conditions

Meth labs aren’t exactly known for their cleanliness. If you walk into a house that looks messy and run-down, it’s a good indicator that something might be amiss. Deep stains on the carpet and walls can also be a strong signal of drug use in the home. That’s not to say that every messy house is a former meth house, but be skeptical if you encounter a home that’s excessively dirty.

Review Registered Meth Houses

Spend some time researching the property online. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maintains a National Clandestine Laboratory Register that’s available to the public. This database stores properties reported as meth houses in all 50 states. It might not have every meth house in the US listed, but it’s a great place to start your research. Even if the address you’re interested in is clean, the database gives you a better idea of where the meth labs in your area are.

Ask Your Neighbors

If you’re new to the area, your neighbors can be a well of helpful information. If they’ve lived in the neighborhood for a while, they’ll likely have important details about the previous owners and any suspicious activities that could have taken place there.

Go to the Police Station

Who knows the negatives of a neighborhood better than the police? Local officers have a lot of information that can help steer you in the right direction. They’ll know everything from the number of arrests to the kinds of disturbances and criminal activities that have taken place. If the house has drug-related incidences, make sure meth wasn’t involved. You can also check out online sources to help you find out how safe your neighborhood is.

Be Wary of Suspiciously Low Prices

Everyone loves a discount, but if the price feels too good to be true, it might be. Not every foreclosure or short sale is shady, but a low price on an amazing property could be due to long-term damage caused by meth. Before finalizing the sale on a foreclosure, do some research and check its history so you know it’s a good deal.

Buy a Test Kit

Meth Test Kit

Meth Residue Test Kit

Meth houses aren’t always run-down and easily recognizable. A newly refinished house might not have any visible signs of prior meth production, but you never know what could be under the surface. If you suspect the property has been used to cook meth, ask your realtor or inspector for a test. You can also conduct your own drug residue test with a home testing kit that produces results instantly or one that you send off to a professional lab.

A Final Word of Advice

Purchasing a home is a life-changing investment, so don’t rush. Meth labs occur by the thousands all over the country, and it’s likely that there are many more undocumented cases. Save your family time, money, and health hazards by testing and researching any home for meth before you finalize the deal.

1. Drug Enforcement Administration, “2017 National Drug Threat Assessment
2. Realty Times, “Are You Obligated to Disclose Previous Meth Contamination on Your Property?

Written by Katie McEntire

Since 2013, Katie has written marketing copy, long-form posts, reviews, and blogs. She began her career as a writer and reviewer with the mission to recommend only the best products for her readers. She’s designed tests, evaluated products, and written reviews on a range of subjects such as appliances, power tools, and software. Today, she applies these research and writing skills on the SafeWise team to explore the world of home, auto, and internet security. Learn more

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  • Eric Latham

    This is not particularly a big deal…there are much more serious concerns when purchasing a home than whether or not meth made there? A lot of this type of thing in our culture is due to social stigma associated with methamphetamine, which creates a generally overreactive bias in media and even recovery/rehabilitation science (as 12 step programs and abstinence only recovery programs have the lowest success rates, can actually do additional psychological damage to patients, and often set up deadly relapses that former patients are in no way prepared for and often die from deadly ODs; yet tend to be preferred in our culture.)

    Asbestos or lead paint for example are much bigger concerns when purchasing a home. Now given that this cultural bias exists–to the point some people believe the nonsense that former use only in a house can be a serious issue (which is just beyond absurd)–if you can do the testing cheaply or find out if the house had been used as a lab, you may be able to benefit financially by getting the price of the home lowered depending on own personal moral and ethical code.

    Personally, profiting off of a drug-myth by getting the cost of your new home lowered doesn’t seem like that terrible of a thing, when the very industries which are supposed to attempt to treat addiction are profiting off of it in a manner that will one day be legally considered malpractice (utilizing old disproven theories as a basis for treatment which is known to fail, continues to fail a majority of the time, to create a sort of revolving door style of treatment and guaranteeing future customers/patients.) Still being a sociologist that has spent years conducting ethnographic research on drug use/users etc, I couldn’t personally do it bc I know that this continues to hype up that cultural misinformation and stigmatization and with American Culture and society and the lack of protection we have from “fake news” (given that news companies have no legal reason to report all sides of a topic anymore since they repealled the fairness act–there is no law against reporting false stories to put it simply)…I couldn’t do it, furthermore it would be wrong to do to the people selling it.

  • Eric Latham

    To quote the second reference: “Some states require written notices, some require no disclosure if the site has been properly cleaned and treated, while others allow disclosures to be undone, once the site is off of the state’s contamination list.”

    This is really a non-issue as the state’s that do not require disclosure do not require disclosure if the site has been properly cleaned and treated.

    In sum, if it hasn’t been properly cleaned or treated, you aren’t going to be looking at it. Once it’s been properly cleaned and treated there is no real threat.

    This is just fear mongering.