AUSTIN (KXAN) — A sign taped onto a brick fence, warning the house for sale on Lowdes Drive in south Austin has a history of meth manufacturing. That’s how a potential home buyer learned to ask questions. On the disclosure form, there was no mention of any history of meth making in the home.
Jared Benedict was initially interested in buying and renovating the foreclosed home for his family. That is, until he learned of the home’s history that could impact their family’s health, particularly his 4-month-old baby girl.
That neighbor’s sign, warning of the “meth house” was the only warning he said he received of the dangers inside the home that was up for sale.
“I see that as sheer luck,” Benedict told KXAN. “If I wouldn’t have seen that sign, I would have no knowledge or even be able to go investigate all the things that I was able to find. It’s baffling to me.”
The property’s history took some digging to find. KXAN requested calls for service from the address to Austin police. The listing included descriptions such as: narcotics information, drugs, burglary of residence and even accidental death. Police reports describe a meth overdose, people admitting to snorting meth, and the address, being under investigation for manufacturing meth.
“I’m a first-time father so I don’t know what I would do if I had fallen into that situation. It would have been heartbreaking,” Benedict said, thinking about how close he came to buying the home.
Carol Voges is the neighbor who put up the warning sign.
“I didn’t care about offending our neighbors. I wanted to protect potential buyers,” said Voges. “If you don’t flip it properly, then they could be harmed. And what if they have children? And I was extremely concerned about that.”
Voges explained after the property owner died and her son died just days later, she helped the son’s girlfriend–who was living there at the time–clean up the home. It was during that time, Voges says she discovered a meth lab inside the home.
“I just put gloves on and we went in there and took it down. And got rid of everything, and that’s how I know that there was a meth lab in there,” Voges said. “It should be mandatory that it is disclosed. Whether it’s rental or selling, I don’t care if the courts own it, I don’t care who owns it. Everybody should be able to know it.”
The property, which is being sold by a probate court, is currently listed as “pending.” KXAN spoke with the selling agent who said she has no knowledge of the condition of the home.
In Texas, a seller is required to disclose if a house was used as a meth lab to a buyer, however, if a bank or court takes ownership of a house, no disclosure is required. A foreclosed home will not have that information. For rental properties, no disclosure is required either.
The health hazards associated with dangerous chemicals in meth is the reason why sellers have to disclose the information in the first place. The chemicals can cling to clothing, carpets and walls–which requires a company to come in and decontaminate the space.
To see if a home you’re interested in was a meth lab at any point, the Drug Enforcement Administration does keep a national registry online. It’s free, but it depends on other agencies to supply the information. And many are not. The Texas list hasn’t been updated since February 2016. Even then, the list doesn’t keep track of whether the home was ever cleaned up.