Meth Home Disclosure Not Required in Michigan

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

Methamphetamine does nasty things. You don't need a health expert to tell you that.

The process used to make meth does plenty of nasty things to any home used as a cook site.

"They can't do it without putting meth in the air," said Mike Allen, a toxicologist with the Ingham County Health Dept. "A lot of the drug winds up coating the house and it coats it as a film on floors, on cabinets, on walls."

"There are a lot of acids that are used, so you may see some rusting in unusual places," said Det. Lt. Tony Saucedo, head of the Michigan State Police's meth enforcement team. "A lot of the stuff associated with meth manufacturing is hazardous waste."

That's why when police bust a meth home, chemicals are hauled away. Once those are gone, the county health department will tag the home and order it vacated until it's cleaned to a standard the state set in 2007.

The county health department only releases the tag when it's satisfied the meth is as gone as is possible.

"The house is generally cleaner [after cleaning] than before the meth lab was there," said Allen.

"I'm comfortable enough to allow a 4-year-old in to occupy the home," said Eric Pessell with the Barry Eaton District Health Department.

But once the home's clean, does the next person to live there get to know whether the meth lab was ever there?

In at least 17 states, including Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Ohio the answer is yes. A seller is required to disclose that information to a buyer. In California, the home's history as a meth lab is added to the property's deed.

But that's not the case in Michigan.

"In Michigan there's really no mechanism for a tenant, whether it's a [renter] or a homeowner to know if it was the site of a meth lab," said Det. Lt. Saucedo.

Law professor John Brennan says standard disclosure forms simply don't address whether a home was ever a meth lab.

"The seller has to fill it out in good faith, but there's nothing specific about whether a home has been used for criminal activity in the past," said Brennan, who teaches at Cooley Law School.

But just because the seller doesn't have to tell you doesn't mean there aren't ways to find out a home's history.

The DEA has a meth lab registry posted online for each state, broken down by county, with a list of addresses and dates of busts. You can find that here: http://www.justice.gov/dea/seizures/

There are problems with that registry though. For example, as of October 30, it lists 120 W. Michigan Ave. in Lansing as one of the sites of a former meth lab. That's not likely though, because that's the address of the downtown headquarters of the Lansing Police Department, located right next to Lansing City Hall.

On top of that, when WILX showed the list to Eric Pessell with the Barry Eaton District Health Department, he noticed that there were busted meth labs he knew about that were not listed.

There are other ways to find out though.

Professor Brennan adds that another simple solution is to ask the right questions. He says if you ask whether a home used to be a meth lab or not, a seller is obligated to tell you the answer to the best of their knowledge.

The most definitive way however, may be to talk to the department in charge of approving the meth lab cleanup to begin with.

"Any health department that's been notified that a home's a meth lab would put that notification in a file," said Pessell. "If you're concerned a home you're looking at buying or you're concerned the home you bought may have been a meth lab, contact your health department and look at the file."

Here is some contact information for local health departments serving mid-Michigan:

Ingham Co. Health Dept. (http://hd.ingham.org/) - (517) 887-4311

Jackson Co. Health Dept. (http://www.co.jackson.mi.us/hd/) - (517) 788-4420

Mid-Michigan District Health Dept. (http://www.mmdhd.org/)
Clinton Co. Branch - (989) 224-2195
Montcalm Co. Branch - (989) 831-5237
Gratiot Co. Branch - (989) 875-3681

Barry Eaton Health Dept. (http://www.barryeatonhealth.org/)
Eaton Co. Branch - (517) 543-2430
Barry Co. Branch - (269) 945-9516

Ionia Co. Health Dept. (http://www.ioniacounty.org/health-department/default.aspx) - (616) 527-5341

Calhoun Co. Health Dept. (http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/government/health_department/) - (269) 781-0700

Shiawassee Co. Health Dept. (http://health.shiawassee.net/) - (989) 743-2355

Livingston Co. Health Dept. (http://www.lchd.org/) - (517) 546-9858

Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency (http://www.bhsj.org/)
Hillsdale Co. Branch - (517) 437-7395
Branch Co. Branch - (517) 279-9561
St. Joseph Co. Branch - (269) 273-2161


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