A northeast Iowa couple’s surprise discovery after buying a home is the inspiration for a bill sponsored by Senate President Pam Jochum. “After they had purchased it, they found out that it had been a meth home and they had to spend thousands of dollars to decontaminated that home so they could live in it,” Jochum says. “And until they decontaminated it, they weren’t going to be able to live in it because of public health concerns.” Jochum’s bill would require property owners to disclose to potential buyers if the dangerous drug had been cooked there.
A three-member subcommittee reviewed the legislation this morning (Thursday), but temporarily tabled it after questions and concerns were raised. Senator Bill Anderson, a Republican from Pierson, says it appears the meth-making disclosure would apply to every structure on a property, not just a house. “If it’s a barn, clearly no one’s going to live in that barn,” Anderson says. “I mean, would this require me to disclose?” Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm, a Democrat from Cresco, used to be a licensed realtor.
“First and foremost, I think we’re all of us sitting at the table, we want to make consumers are protected,” Wilhelm says. “….But I haven’t dealt with this issue for many years…I just thought the place just had to be torn down, so I need to have some answers about is there a clean-up process that we can do and who determines if it’s livable or not livable.” Realtors suggest there’s already a requirement on disclosure statements requiring sellers to reveal if there are environmental hazards on the property and that would apply to places where meth’s been made. Jennifer Kingland is a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Realtors.
“Obviously we want to make sure that people are moving into homes that are safe. That is not our intention for registering opposed to this bill,” Kingland says. “But, you know, really, you are condemning that property to a stigmatized type of perception publicly.” Kingland says realtors would prefer legislators focus on ensuring there’s a way for property owners to get some sort of state certification that a property where meth was made has been cleaned up and is livable.
“For the property owners that surround it, it’s really for the benefit of them, too, that you solve the problem when it’s discovered,” Kingland says. Senator Liz Mathis, a Democrat from Robins who leads the three-member panel reviewing the disclosure requirement, plans to press forward with the bill. “I think realtors are very concerned about this. I think sellers are very concerned about this and banks are because it does add a stigma to the home. But, at the same time, what about the buyer?” Mathis says. “How do we protect the consumer from something that they knew nothing about?”
About half of all states require some sort of disclosure if there’s been a meth lab in a home. Some states require written notices. Some require no disclosure if the site has been properly cleaned and treated and some allow disclosures to be undone is the site has been decontaminated.