Cliff Hockley was lucky. He didn’t have to foot the $7,000 bill after one of the apartment units he managed had to be dismantled for cleaning after a meth lab was discovered inside of it.
The tenant’s father had co-signed on the apartment, which meant he was responsible for paying the cleaning costs after the police raided the unit and found methamphetamine had been cooked in the kitchen, living room and bathroom.
“We were really lucky that we got paid in whole,” Hockley said. “That was luck, not skill.”
Hockley, president of Bluestone and Hockley Real Estate Services, said the police raid happened about nine years ago in Portland, Oregon. Once the police investigation was initiated, his company had to take several steps to remediate the unit, a process that took about a month.
Each state has guidelines for how a methamphetamine lab must be cleaned, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Tennessee had 1,585 meth lab incidents last year, second behind Missouri’s 1,825 incidents. The State of Tennessee has a list of more than 40 companies that are certified to specifically clean up meth labs.
Erica Martin works as a private contractor in Tennessee and is certified to clean up methamphetamine exposed homes. She said her company is contracted to clean about 10 former meth lab homes each year but they see them just about every day statewide.
The process begins with a contractor going in and throwing away any soft material in the home including carpet and the liner beneath the carpet.
“There are so many different pockets in fiber,” she said. “And you can’t clean that thoroughly and then guarantee that it is safe.”
Anything contaminated cannot be disposed of in an ordinary landfill, Martin said. Special permits are required to take the exposed materials to a hazardous landfill, which tacks on an additional cost to the remediation bill.
Any walls or flooring that is highly porous must also be ripped out before the entire space is sprayed with a cleaning solution, at least twice, followed by a water wash down.
The EPA recommends encapsulating any hard surfaces after cleaning to seal any toxins from migrating from the surfaces, according to the agency’s online guideline booklet. Testing will also be done before a unit is cleared to be rented again. However, the testing guidelines vary from state to state.
Martin said she takes between four and six samples from a home after the cleaning is done and it takes between three and four weeks to get results back.
“They’ll let us know if it’s safe for humans to inhabit it again,” she said.
It can cost a property owner up to $25,000 to safely put an average three bedroom space back online after a meth lab is discovered, she said.
While contractors in Tennessee are coping with the problem on a daily basis, Hockley said it’s been a declining problem in his Oregon properties.
Oregon had only nine meth lab incidents in 2012.
“We haven’t had a meth case for about four of five years now,” Hockley said. “I’m jumpin’ up and down grateful for that.”
Edit note: This is part three in a series exploring meth labs in apartment units and will appear in the June issue of Multifamily Executive. The part one laid out the scope of the issue, while part two looked at the second-hand health issues.