Monday, November 29, 2010

A Meth House is Not a Home

Today, CNN and the Consumerist blog reported the story of a Pennsylvania couple, Jenn Friberg and Ron Quigley, who were dismayed to discover that their new home had previously been a meth lab. Lingering drug residue made the new owners physically ill just days after moving in, and professional cleaning will cost the couple an additional $25,000 over their purchase price. Friberg and Quigley have started a blog, Our Meth House, to solicit donations for the cleanup, as well as to help raise awareness of the warning signs for other potential home-buyers.

Goodson Blogson readers who have survived the labor-intensive process of purchasing a home may be shocked to hear that no laws were broken by the inspectors or sellers who failed to disclose the property’s colorful history. Disclosure laws vary widely by state, and in Pennsylvania the burden is on the homeowner to request a “meth lab test” by the inspector and/or to conduct independent research on the property. Friberg and Quigley learned of their new home’s history from a neighbor, and subsequently discovered the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register, which did list their property’s address. Unfortunately, the news came too late to prevent the purchase of their contaminated home.

What can a savvy legal researcher do to determine how Friberg and Quigley’s situation might compare to another state’s laws on the matter? 50-state surveys to the rescue! Multi-state surveys provide quick access to various jurisdictions’ statutes and/or regulations on a particular subject. Although there won’t always be a survey available on your specific research topic, it’s always worth a check before you attempt to compile the information yourself. Here are some approaches which could save you valuable research time down the road:
  • Researchers at Duke may want to start with HeinOnline’s Subject Compilations of State Laws database (the book version is also available in the library’s Reference Collection). This collection is searchable by keyword or browseable by topic, and indexes multi-state surveys from premium databases, footnotes and appendices to law review articles, and non-governmental organization websites. A keyword search for “methamphetamine” returned several results, including a Westlaw survey entitled “Cleanup, Remediation, or Demolition of Methamphetamine Houses” (dated 2006).
  • As seen above, the Subject Compilations will frequently point to surveys available on LexisNexis and Westlaw, but because of publication delays (the 2008-2009 volume was uploaded to Hein in June 2010), it can be useful to search these premium databases separately for more recent material. On Lexis, follow the path Legal > Legislation & Politics (or 50-State Multi-Jurisdictional Materials) > LexisNexis 50 State Surveys, Legislation & Regulations to search the survey text; on Westlaw, the database identifiers are SURVEYS for statutory materials, and REG-SURVEYS for regulatory comparisons. Note that these surveys are updated periodically by Lexis and Westlaw staff—that 2006 survey cited in the Subject Compilations was last revised in October 2009 (for Find by Citation: 0070 SURVEYS 9).
  • A quick web search can also be an effective research strategy for locating free 50-state surveys which may not yet be indexed by the Subject Compilations of State Laws (such as surveys from the National Conference of State Legislatures, or this 2010 student note from BYU on methamphetamine disclosure laws, which is freely available on the school’s repository). As with all Internet search results, though, smart researchers will want to independently verify their findings – because with free legal information, you often get what you pay for.
(For local readers, the Westlaw survey and BYU note both point to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-284, which charges the state Commission for Public Health with rulemaking power to establish decontamination standards for former meth labs. North Carolina’s disclosure form includes a section on “environmental hazards” but does not specifically address meth labs.)

Have 50-state surveys ever saved you a research headache? Tell us your success stories in the comment section.