News

Meth destroys homeowner’s dream

Kathy Varney and her daughter, Kaylene, stand in front of their rental home in Freeland. Their hopes of home ownership were dashed when they discovered that methamphetamine had been manufactured by the previous renters in the home they had hoped to buy.  - Gayle Saran
Kathy Varney and her daughter, Kaylene, stand in front of their rental home in Freeland. Their hopes of home ownership were dashed when they discovered that methamphetamine had been manufactured by the previous renters in the home they had hoped to buy.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

FREELAND — A Freeland woman’s dream of home ownership was brought to an abrupt halt when she discovered the home she wanted to buy had been used by methamphetamine users who had cooked the toxic drug inside the house.

Kathy Varney and her 17-year-old daughter, Kaylene, were only two weeks short of closing on their first house when she learned the history of the tiny house on Garden Lane.

Although the house had never been closed down by police for drug activity, the Island County Health Department, a neighbor and a local contractor confirmed the home was contaminated.

“At first when I heard ‘meth,’ I thought OK, the house is being remodeled, so it will be fine,” Varney said.

Varney was fortunate because her real estate agent returned her earnest money, and the seller paid her for the expenses she had incurred getting ready to move into the home.

Even so, Varney said she lost access to a first-time home buyer’s grant of $10,000.

Beyond the disappointment of not moving into her own home, Varney is concerned for others who may unknowingly buy property that was used by meth addicts. She said her reason for speaking out now is to warn other home buyers to be on the lookout.

“I want to make future home buyers more aware of meth lab homes on the market and their health risks, their consumer rights to be informed, and to educate them on what to look for when considering a home purchase,” she said.

“I worked my butt off to get to this point. It took me five years to save up the money. I cannot even begin to express the emotion we invested, and the grief this has caused,” Varney said.

Varney first began to suspect something when the contractor hired by the homeowner to remodel portions of the house said he found hundreds of needles in the wall, and a neighbor claimed to have witnessed the former renters cooking meth.

“And there were brown stains seeping through the fresh paint in the dining room, and the bathtub drain appeared to be burned,” Varney said.

Varney advised home buyers to be wary of real estate disclosure forms.

“The owner of the home did not disclose on the real estate seller’s disclosure form that there had been any drug activity,” Varney said.

It’s not clear that the homeowner even knew. Repeated calls by The Record to the home’s owner have not been returned.

Varney began researching meth on the Internet and started talking to law enforcement officials. Varney said she learned that drug users often poke needles into the wall to get rid of them.

She also sent photographs of the home to the Island County Health Department, and health department officials tested the home’s interior at the homeowner’s urging.

After taking field samples from the home, the health department confirmed the home had been a meth lab.

Marie Pope, an environmental specialist with the health department, said tests of the home’s interior came back positive for methamphetamine.

“We took six swipes from inside the home — in the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom — they all came back positive for meth,” Pope said.

“The owner of the home asked that we do it. He has been very cooperative,” Pope said.

The home is off the market now. A sign on the front door from the heath department warns the property is “contaminated and unsafe to enter.”

Pope said the home must be cleaned up by a certified hazardous materials contractor.

“It can be cleaned up. The health department will review and verify that it has been decontaminated after the certified contractor is finished,” she said.

Such work will mean bringing in off-island experts. There aren’t certified contractors in Island County; the nearest contractors are in Everett, Bellingham and Arlington.

Pope said the contractor will test the soils and the septic system, and will decontaminate the interior of the home.

That’s little solace for Varney, though.

“My daughter and I feel we have had our consumer rights taken away from us, due to lack of information on the disclosure form. We had the right to make an informed and safe decision in choosing the home we would buy and living in,” Varney said.

“More important, was the heart and soul we invested, in seeing our lifelong dream come true,” she said.

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