Did That Property House a Dangerous Drug Lab?
Posted on October 2, 2009 by Arizona Realtor Monthly
State Law Disclosure Requirements—and What You Can Do to Investigate a Property
A property that has concealed a dangerous drug lab can be a toxic menace to occupants. Per A.R.S. § 12-1000, passed in 2003 and amended in 2005, a property owner is required to clean up (remediate) property used as a dangerous drug lab. If the property has not been remediated, s/he must disclose to buyers and tenants that the property has been used as a drug lab.
Arizona Board of Technical Registration. To view a list of unremediated sites, click on “Drug Lab Site Clean Up” under Listings, then select “Public List.”
Remediation of Clandestine Drug Laboratories. An article from Lisa (Lawhorn) Vardian with the Board of Technical Registration.
Can the owner sell an unremediated property?
An owner can sell an unremediated property as long as s/he notifies the buyer in writing within five days after the buyer signs the purchase contract. The buyer must acknowledge receipt of the notice and may cancel the contract within five days after receiving it. If the owner fails to provide notice, the statute says the owner is subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 and “is liable for any harm resulting from the owner’s failure to comply with the requirements.”
If the seller does not notify the buyer that the property is unremediated, but the buyer discovers the fact while under contract or after closing, the buyer should seek legal counsel to discuss how best to proceed.
Does the seller have to disclose to the buyer that the property was the site of a drug lab once it’s been remediated?
Based on this statute, the seller is only obligated to make the statutory disclosure when the property is unremediated. However, given the common law, the agent should discuss the issue with the seller and consider the sentence on the Seller Property Disclosure Statement (SPDS): “When in doubt, disclose!”
Where can the public find a list of unremediated sites?
BTR maintains a list of unremediated properties on its website. A property is added to the list when BTR receives notice of seizure from law enforcement—generally when a police officer discovers a drug lab or arrests a person with chemicals or equipment used in dangerous drug manufacture. To view a list of unremediated sites, visit www.azbtr.gov. Click on “Drug Lab Site Clean Up” under Listings, then select “Public List.“
Is it possible to find out if a site was once on the list but has been remediated?
Once a property has been remediated, it is removed from the list on the BTR website. However, Vardian says that anyone who wants to know if a property was once on the list but has been remediated can call her directly at 602-364-4948.
And it never hurts to ask the seller. As noted above, the statute doesn’t require disclosure, but a direct question may solicit a more complete response.
The state-wide list on the BTR website is only one page long. Is that complete?
The statute took effect in 2003, so properties discovered before 2003 are not on the list. In addition, law enforcement was only required to notify BTR after the law was amended in 2005. Consequently, some seizures during that initial time period may not be listed. Finally, only properties where a police officer has discovered a clandestine lab or related materials make the list. BTR depends upon notification by law enforcement to maintain an accurate list.
How long will a property stay on the public list provided by BTR?
The home will stay on the public list until the BTR receives a notice of remediation by a registered drug lab site remediation firm. BTR does monthly site visits to all unremediated properties to check if the “WARNING” notice required by the statute is posted on the property and to look for signs of occupancy. (The statute allows owners to enter unremediated properties but not occupy them.) According to Vardian, only 3 of the 43 sites on the list at the time still have the posting and appear to be unoccupied.
BTR reports these findings to law enforcement. Unfortunately, the way the statute is written, it doesn’t assign authority over enforcement.
Not all dangerous drug labs are discovered by police. Are there any signs a buyer can look for that might suggest the past presence of such a lab?
There is no easy way to determine if the property once housed a drug lab. However, on REALTOR® Magazine’s “Staged, Styled & Sold” blog, chemist Lynn Riemer of Colorado’s North Metro Drug Task Force listed five warning symptoms to watch out for:
- Yellow discoloration on walls, drains, sinks and showers.
- Blue discoloration on valves of propane tanks and fire extinguishers.
- Fire detectors that are removed or taped off.
- Burning in your eyes, itchy throat, a metallic taste in your mouth or breathing problems when in the home.
- Strong odors that smell similar to materials often found in a garage, such as solvent and paint thinner, or odors of cat urine or ammonia.
In addition, remember this guidance from the Buyer Advisory: “Neighbors can provide a wealth of information. Buyers should always talk to the surrounding residents about… the history of the property.”