Meth Lab Disclosures Hit Home

Every landlord and property manager who rents a house, duplex or apartment in Oklahoma now has a new promise to keep: My property has never been the site of a methamphetamine production facility – a “meth lab.” See 41 O.S. § 118.

In Oklahoma, methamphetamine ranks with lead-based paint and radon gas on the list of hazards to consider before renting or buying a residence. Under a law that went into effect late last year, if a landlord knows or has reason to know that a house or apartment “or any part of the premises” was ever used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, the landlord must disclose this information to all prospective tenants.

Landlords now join sellers of residential property in having to disclose that their property has been used to manufacture methamphetamine.  This new law also requires that, if the property has been a meth lab, the landlord must have the level of contamination “assessed” and prove that it has been cleaned up according to state standards before disclosure is no longer mandated. Previously, only buyers had to be told if the property used to be a meth house.  Now that requirement has been carried over to rental properties.

I welcome this addition to the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act because the public needs to know the lasting dangers meth labs can leave. Like purchasers, renters should have full disclosure if a dwelling has been used to produce meth so they can take steps, or ensure that the landlord has taken steps, to protect against unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. The fumes created by meth production can saturate a dwelling and remain a health problem even after the meth lab is removed. Each pound of meth produced leaves behind five or six pounds of toxic waste. Meth cooks often pour leftover chemicals and byproduct sludge down drains in nearby plumbing, storm drains, or directly onto the ground. Chlorinated solvents and other toxic byproducts used to make meth pose long-term hazards because they can persist in soil and groundwater for years. Clean-up costs can be exorbitant because solvent contaminated soil usually must be incinerated. The clean-up standards in the new law should keep Oklahoma renters safe from old meth labs.

CNN ran a story of a Pennsylvania couple who purchased a home only to find themselves unable to occupy it because they had headaches, sore throats and breathing difficulties when they were in the house. Then they learned that the house had been the site of a meth lab. Their pre-purchase home inspection had failed to reveal the use of the home as a meth lab, even though the home was listed in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Clandestine Laboratory Registry as a meth production facility.  According to CNN, Pennsylvania law does not require disclosure of this or the fact that the house used to be a meth lab.

Recently, I learned of a Tulsa couple that is going through a similar nightmare.  However, Oklahoma has for years required the disclosure by sellers of the “existence of prior manufacturing of methamphetamine” in the home, as well as the “existence of hazardous or regulated materials and other conditions having an environmental impact,” to the extent the seller has “actual knowledge” of such conditions.  See, Residential Property Condition Disclosure Act 60 OS § 833. (A 2003 amendment added meth labs as one of the required disclosures.)

A seller’s failure to disclose a meth lab in the “property condition disclosure statement” renders the seller liable for actual damages, including all costs of repair and attorney’s fees, if the lawsuit is brought within two years of the date of purchase of the property. In addition, if a real estate agent was involved in the sale and knew of the meth lab, she also has a duty to disclose it to the home buyer.  Failure to do so renders the real estate agent liable for the same damages.

41 O.S. § 118 now extends possibly greater liabilities to landlords who fail to notify prospective tenants if a rental unit or any part of the premises was used in the production of methamphetamine.  Also, the landlord may be liable if he is unable to establish that he properly assessed the level of contamination and determined that the level of contamination does not exceed 1/10 of one microgram per 100 square centimeters of surface material within the dwelling unit and effected premises.

Some parting information:

  • Oklahoma ranks among the top five states in meth use and production;
  • Since 1995, meth lab seizures have increased 577 percent nationally;
  • The Tulsa Police Department has a map of meth labs and houses on their Website; and
  • U.S. DEA’s National Clandestine Laboratory Registry lists Oklahoma meth labs, houses and dumpsites.

In most cases, the entries are not verified and there is no guarantee of accuracy.  Before you rely on this information, you should verify its accuracy by, for example, contacting local law enforcement and local health departments.

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