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First it was toxic mold. Now it’s meth residue. Property owners are battling a new breed of lawsuits, in which people who unwittingly bought homes that were once methamphetamine labs are suing over contaminated houses that are making them sick. The lawsuits are fallout from the massive federal crackdown on meth labs during the past decade, which saw more than 100,000 labs busted, leaving behind thousands of polluted homes and apartments for unsuspecting residents to fill. Buyers are claiming that property owners know about the meth contamination, which can live in walls, carpets and furniture, but fail to disclose it. But many landlords and property owners counter that the meth crisis has victimized them, forcing them to pay thousands of dollars in cleanup costs for a problem they neither caused nor knew about. In Ohio, a single mother is suing the former owner of a drug house that she unknowingly bought, alleging he had failed to tell her that the $147,000 home was a former meth lab. Her children developed chronic respiratory problems, forcing her to vacate the house, lose most of her personal belongings and face foreclosure. Taylor Bean & Whittaker Mortgage Corp. v. Wagner, No. CV2007-07-4932 (Summit Co., Ohio, Ct. C.P.). In Washington state, a real estate company and property owners are currently appealing a court ruling that awarded $94,000 to a family that unknowingly bought a house that was a former meth lab. The family was forced to move and lost its personal belongings to contamination. Bloor v. Fritz, No. 05-200628-3 (Lewis Co., Wash., Super Ct.). “This has become pretty prevalent, unfortunately,” said Denver attorney Tom Bulger of the Denver-based Silvern Law Offices. “In the last year, I have gotten repeated calls . . . and they’re not just from folks renting the $300-a-month flea-bag type of apartment. These are folks living in very nice apartment complexes in nice neighborhoods.” On the legislative front, the meth lab crisis has prompted 14 states to pass laws in recent years mandating that sellers disclose to buyers that a home was a former meth lab. Laws mandating sellers to clean up meth houses before selling them are on the books in 13 states. Ohio attorney Warner Mendenhall, who is representing the single mother in the Ohio lawsuit, believes that a wave of meth contamination litigation is on the horizon. “In the city of Akron alone, there are hundreds of houses, apartments and hotel rooms that have been used as meth production labs, and I think there are tremendous dangers there,” said Mendenhall of Akron, Ohio’s The Law Offices of Warner Mendenhall. “And frankly, we have started to hear from people who bought some of those houses.” Attorney Joseph Hoerig of Akron, Ohio, who is defending the seller in the Ohio case, did not return calls for comment. The National Association of Realtors defends the role that real estate agents play in disclosing meth contamination to prospective buyers. “Realtors disclose what they know and they try to do what they can do find out about a house. But it’s difficult to find out every single element or aspect of a house because if the seller doesn’t tell them, and there are no records, how is a Realtor going to know about those issues?” asked Russell Riggs, an NAR official who represents real estate agents before federal regulatory agencies. Property owners are also owning up to their responsibility in disclosing meth contamination, said Mike Nesteroff, a real estate and environmental law litigator at Seattle’s Lane Powell. “Certainly, it’s bad news when a property owner finds out they have meth contamination. It adds uncertainly to any transaction. It also means having to lay out money for something that a property owner doesn’t feel like they should have to do.”

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