YORK COUNTY-The home at 1212 Wilkins Drive in York County seems to blend in with the neighborhood.
It went up for sale this summer as foreclosed property being sold on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The online description read, 'Super location for this 3 bedroom, 1 bath home. This has an enormous detached garage with possible living quarters. With a little tlc, this house can be a home.'
Unsuspecting buyers didn't know it's a home with a troubled past.
On December 15, 2011, it was one of five houses in York and James City counties that authorities raided and found a meth operation. But prospective buyers weren't initially told about what had been going on inside.
'Are we required by law today to place that information in writing? I don't believe we are,' said Pat Steele, Chair of the Hampton Roads Real Estate Association.
Under the current disclosure law, realtor Glenn Jenkins did nothing illegal by not disclosing the issues.
He says he didn't know the history until mid-July, that HUD never told him about it and that the home didn't show up on a national online database of contaminated houses.
Jenkins also says he was not made aware of a letter from a York County official to HUD warning, 'Anyone entering the detached garage might put themselves at risk.'
County public records reveal several outstanding building code violations relating to 'illegal meth production' inside the detached garage at 1212 Wilkins Drive.
'We don't typically investigate properties, honestly, that's not really our role to do so,' explained Jenkins.
But once he knew, Jenkins says he immediately started to tell clients.
Respiratory problems, skin irritation and migraines, are some of the reported health risks associated with living in a house where meth was made. The potentially hidden hazards led to a new disclosure law in Virginia.
'Our goal is to connect people with the American dream and we want to make sure they have all of the information,' said Blake Hegeman, a lawyer for the Virginia Association of Realtors.
Early this year, the association sponsored a new law passed by the General Assembly that will requires sellers to disclose meth contamination to customers.
'Beginning in July 2014, if a seller or landlord has actual knowledge-- that's a key-- they have to have actual knowledge that a property has been used to manufacture methamphetamines and has not been remediated or cleaned up, they're going to have the obligation to disclose it to prospective tenants and prospective purchasers on a form provided by the Virginia Real Estate Board,' explained Hegeman.
In late September, Jenkins says he told HUD what he had learned and was instructed to pull 1212 Wilkins Drive from the market.
Steele says regardless of when the new law takes effect, a real estate broker should disclose knowledge of any problem.
'At all times, I think we ought to hold the public interest to the highest,' said Steele.
Our investigation has resulted in a new policy at Chantel Ray Real Estate.
'In order to learn that information, we're not just going to sit back and rely solely on the seller, or only on the Website,' said Jenkins. 'Now, we're also going to call the city building official. That's the lesson we have learned here. So moving forward, even though none of that is required from us, we're going to go above and beyond and try to overly disclose to agents and the public.'
Currently, the Virginia Health Department is creating standards for the proper clean-up of property contaminated with meth. If the property is cleaned to those standards, sellers would not have the obligation to disclose the previous contamination.
So, how do you know if you could be looking at a 'meth house?'
Here are some tips from Methlabhomes.com.
-Look for chemical stains on surfaces
Chemicals used in manufacturing are highly toxic and when spilled could leave permanent marks on floors and walls.
-Suspicious Plumbing, wiring, ventilation
The process of 'cooking' meth requires special hardware and tools. Out of place plumbing, wiring and ventilation in places like garages, basements, and attics could be a sign of a previous clandestine operation.
-Burned grass or vegetation
If you see burn pits, stained soil or dead vegetation it may indicate areas where meth lab chemicals have been dumped.