A few days after moving into a 109-year-old twin home in the blue collar Philadelphia suburb of Bristol. Pa., Robert Quigley got the shock of his life when he finally met one of his next-door neighbors when he was taking out the trash.
The neighbor was happy to learn that Quigley and his girlfriend, Jennifer Friberg, were in the house instead of the previous resident -- a known hoodlum who had been arrested for making crystal methamphetamine. Suddenly, the $190,000, 4-bedroom home with the nice hardwood floors that the young couple had wanted to fix up and one day start a family in, had become an an albatross around their necks that still weighs them down. It still leaves the 31-year-old graphics designer dumbfounded, but did explain some strange things he experienced.
"As soon as we moved in, we started to get headaches immediately," he told WalletPop in an interview, adding that he and Friberg attributed their health issues to the stress of moving into their first house. "Our symptoms kept getting worse the longer we stayed there."
Quigley and Friberg encountered a growing problem, according to experts. Several states mandate that sellers disclose if a house was a meth lab. Though Pennsylvania is not one of them, the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors says there are places on the seller's disclosure forms where such information could be divulged. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, standards among states vary for cleaning former meth labs.
"While some states employ effective regulations, such as Colorado, Washington, and North Carolina, some experts think that many may not. In Idaho, for example, a former lab is deemed `clean' when there is less than one tenth of a microgram of methamphetamine per square centimeter in the room where meth was cooked," the non-profit says. "There are no national standards for meth lab cleanups, and regulations differ from state to state. In some states, getting a license to decontaminate a house is as easy as taking a few hours of class and a written test."
The couple acquired the home from the estate of a family who acquired it in 1930. They had trouble getting documents signed related to the transaction because one of the members of the family was unavailable. Only later did they learn that the person was in jail.
Later, the couple found out that their home was listed on a DEA website of crystal meth labs. Though they were not immediately obvious, there were some signs that the house was used for illicit purposes including frosted windows that were in the upstairs and the decorative plastic on the kitchen windows so that no one could look inside. Tests found that five out of the six rooms tested positive for methamphetamine, which was most likely made in the basement where the concentrations were the highest. Most of the furniture was thrown away and the belongings they could salvage are mostly in storage.
After getting checked out by a doctor and learning that the chemicals -- some of which cause cancer -- used in the production of the illegal drug seep into everything from carpeting to ceiling tiles, Quigley and Friberg had enough. They moved out of their home on April 10, a little more than a month after moving in, and have been trying to figure out what to do ever since.
For one thing, the industrial hygienist they hired estimated it would cost $60,000 to clean up the property, which the couple can't afford. Filing suit against those who wronged them would cost them another $50,000, according to a lawyer they consulted who added that there was little hope that the sellers could afford to pay them damages. Reselling the house is out of the question given its history as a drug house and there was no guarantee they could recoup their cleaning costs. Quigley says the couple is trying to reach an arrangement with their creditors or receive some sort of government grant. Though they don't want to ruin their credit, the couple is considering walking away from their former dream home and letting the bank reclaim it through foreclosure.
"All of our dreams of owning a home, being happy, and starting a family have been crushed," he writes in an outline of the couple's story to remember the details. "(We are) trying to figure out the best way to get out of this situation but we don't think there really is one."
Young couple's dream house turns into a meth nightmare