Property buyers in Oregon may be liable for unknown meth lab clean-up

Potential purchasers of real estate in Oregon often know what they are buying. Disclosures submitted prior to a sale must identify known and potential contaminates and buyers can make up their minds whether they wish to proceed with the purchase based on the information provided.

However, some rental property owners are unaware that the properties they are trying to sell contain hazardous substances. This is especially so for properties where illegal drugs were manufactured or used.

Methamphetamine contamination

According to Oregon Health Authority officials, it is estimated that only one in 10 meth labs are discovered in the state, and that only includes properties where meth is manufactured. Most people know that meth labs are extremely dangerous. However, prolonged or heavy use of methamphetamine can also contaminate a property to the extent that it becomes an environmental hazard, uninhabitable by humans or animals.

Meth residue builds up on porous surfaces such as furniture and carpet and creates significant dangers, much like that of a meth lab. The Oregon Health Authority warns that many properties would test positive for residue but are not tested because the sites were not used for making the highly toxic drug. Unfortunately, Oregon clean-up laws only cover methamphetamine manufacturing sites.

Oregon's contaminated property law

Oregon law requires condemnation or clean up of properties that are contaminated by such substances as petroleum products, toxic waste or controlled substances. Upon a determination of unacceptable levels of contamination, the owner must either condemn the property or hire a properly certified contractor licensed by the state to clean up the property.

A buyer of contaminated real estate may be liable for the cost of clean-up if he or she knew or should have known the property was contaminated at the time of the purchase. Failing to conduct an environmental assessment may subject the purchaser to the expense of decontaminating the property.

Avoiding liability

Purchasers of real estate may avail themselves of a number of defenses if they find themselves in possession of a contaminated property. A buyer may avoid clean-up liability if he or she:

  • Conducted all appropriate inquiries prior to purchasing the property
  • Inherited the property
  • Entered into a legally binding agreement with the Department of Environmental Quality limiting liability
  • Qualifies as a Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser under federal law

A purchaser may not, however, escape clean-up costs or liability through private agreements with the seller.

A lawyer can help

If you are buying or selling a residential or commercial property, it is important to consult an experienced real estate lawyer who is knowledgeable about environmental issues.