Texas Buyers Beware: Is That House a Former Meth Lab?

Since foreclosure properties are on the rise due to the recent and ongoing real estate crisis, such properties may seem financially attractive to you if you’re in the home or investment property buying mode. However, if you’re doing your search in the State of Texas, there’s one important question you need to ask before venturing very far: “Is this house a former meth lab?”

You have to ask it, because there are no Texas laws that require a realtor or banker to disclose such information in the case of foreclosures—and the financial and health exposure risks are too high not to know.

Meth labs are nightmares when it comes to property destruction and clean-up. Although chemicals vary depending on the process used, methamphetamines normally are made by using lye, anhydrous ammonia (like in fertilizer), iodine, red phosphorus (the red part of a match), and epinephrine. The chemicals are combined and “cooked” in some form or another, often with a heating source. Of course the materials are also flammable, so a lab site can be a literal explosive time bomb if the maker isn’t paying attention.

When the chemicals are mixed and cooked, they form by-product chemicals which are extremely dangerous to anyone who comes in contact with them. The fumes seep into the porous parts of the property, like the drywall, the insulation, fabrics, etc. The whole house becomes contaminated and is literally considered a hazardous material, or hazmat, site. Law enforcement crews who must enter such areas do so in full hazmat gear.

In order to conduct proper clean-up, the house often must be completely gutted and redone from the framing. Costly, to say the least—and that’s not counting the cost of properly disposing of the contaminated materials. In many cases, clean-up is not always an expense covered by insurance, depending on where you live.

While the State of Texas Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division does have requirements for normal home sales to disclose meth lab status, there is nothing in place for foreclosure sales. In fact, there also aren’t any laws requiring the owner to even clean up the mess.

So, prior to making an offer on a foreclosed home, make it a point to ask the owner, the realtor or the lender if they are aware of any meth lab activity at the property you’re looking at. Remember, there is no law that says they must disclose, but it’s worth asking. Making sure you have a reputable realtor is essential. Also, you can do some research on your own. On the Homefacts website, there are search engines that allow you to plug in the city in question and run a meth lab search. Plus, you can double-check with local law enforcement in your city of choice and ask them, as well, because they will have records of any meth lab criminal activity. Regardless of what sources you use, however, the most important thing is to ask the question, before you commit to buying what could be a costly and health-endangering property.