You’ve finally done it: you’ve stepped into the realm of homeownership. The inspection checked out, the location is perfect for you and your family, and the neighbors seem friendly—all in all, you feel right at home. Buying a house is exciting, but before you sign on the dotted line, check to see if your new home was used as a meth lab. You might say to yourself this is unlikely, but CNN reports that thousands of unsuspecting people fall victim to purchasing meth houses every year.1
Once a house has been exposed to meth, the molecules stick to surfaces like the walls and floors and can even penetrate through to the insulation. This type of exposure is especially dangerous for young children who tend to put their hands in their mouths after crawling around or playing with toys on the floor.
The worst part is, once you’ve purchased the home, the burden of cleaning the chemicals and making it safe falls on you and your loved ones. And, unfortunately, the cleanup process can be quite expensive—upwards of $10,000, according to CNN.2 Avoid this scenario by following the steps below to determine if you’re about to buy a meth house. It’s always better to be safe, especially when it involves your family.
Review Registered Meth Houses
Spend some time researching the property online. Start by going to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) website to review the database of properties listed as meth houses. Although this might not be a complete list, it will give you a better idea of the area and locations of concentrated meth labs. If you don’t see your house on this list, check your state’s law enforcement database for similar lists of houses that have been reported for drug activity.
Ask Your Neighbors
Neighbors like to gossip—use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to stop by your neighbor’s place and ask about the history of your house. If they’ve lived in the area for a while, they’ll likely have important details about odd behavior, suspicious activities, and the previous owners. Not only is this a good way to make friends, it’s also invaluable firsthand knowledge to have of the house.
Go to the Police Station
After you’ve talked to a few neighbors around the block, take a trip down to the police station to see official reports filed on your house. Police officers have a plethora of information about the location that will 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 multiple drug-related incidences, make sure meth wasn’t involved.
Smell for Strong Odors
It’s normal for older homes and fixer-uppers to be a little smelly. As you’re walking through a house, sniff around—literally. Certain chemical smells such as paint thinner, ether, acetone, and cat urine might be signs of meth production. Don’t be alarmed by every smell, but be sure to ask your realtor some hard questions if you smell the telltale signs of meth.
Check the Home’s History
Make sure the deal you’re getting on the house isn’t too good to be true. A foreclosure or short sale seems like a great opportunity to buy an amazing property at an extremely low price. And oftentimes it is. However, troubled properties happen to have higher risks of meth contamination. Before finalizing the sale on a foreclosure, do your due diligence and check its history so you know it’s a good deal.
Note Unsanitary Conditions
First impressions can be very telling. If you walk into a house that looks messy and has trash all over the place, it’s a good indicator that something might be amiss. Another red flag is deep stains on the carpet and walls. Most meth producers tend to neglect their homes. That’s not to say that every messy house is a drug den, but keep a skeptical eye on things if you find yourself in a home that is excessively dirty.
Look for Destructive Behavior
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that long periods of drug use tend to lead to violent behavior.3 Drugs have a devastating impact on the brain, which may cause temper outbursts and other volatile actions. As you walk through a house, take a close look at the walls, doors, and frames. Do they look damaged or punched in? If so, find out about the previous owners. There might be a lot more to the story of a house with a violent past.
Buy a Test Kit
Looks can be deceiving. A newly refinished house might not have any visible signs of prior meth production, but you never know what’s lurking right beneath the surface. Ask your realtor or inspector to do a meth test on the property. You can even purchase your own, relatively inexpensive, meth test and get permission from the owners to do the test. Not only will you feel good that your house is everything you’ve ever dreamed of, but you’ll have peace of mind that your family will be safe from harm.
Purchasing a home is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make—so take it slow. Meth labs occur by the thousands all over the country, and it’s likely that there are many more undocumented cases. And, unfortunately, the health risks of meth are very serious—even deadly. In the short term, you might experience headaches, nausea, and throat and eye irritation. While in the long term you’ll be at risk for cancer, liver damage, kidney failure, miscarriages, and birth defects.
And although it’s easy to assume that meth houses are only in certain locations, it’s simply not true. From high-end to middle-class neighborhoods—you never know which house is hiding a drug-riddled past. So when you’re out house hunting, do your research, keep your eyes and nose open, ask questions, and—when in doubt—test.
1. CNN, “How to Spot a Meth Lab”
2. CNN, “How to Spot a Meth Lab”
3. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Methamphetamine