Unfortunately, there are regular reports of drug use and manufacturing throughout our communities in Washington. If you are a property owner, questions could arise about what happens if you buy a property contaminated by past drug use or, if you are a landlord, what happens if your tenant contaminates your property.
Thankfully, there is a Washington law that seeks to prevent innocent people from buying or renting a contaminated homes: RCW Chapter 64.44. The law places certain responsibilities on local and state authorities.
First, whenever a law enforcement agency becomes aware that a property has been contaminated, they must report the contamination to the local health officer. If a landlord believes a prior tenant has contaminated the property, the landlord must notify the local health officer. The local health officer then must post a warning on the property notifying everyone that the property may be contaminated and unsafe. In Whatcom County, the local health officer is the Whatcom County Health Department.
Next, the local health officer inspects the property. If contamination is found, the officer issues an order prohibiting the use of the property as long as it is contaminated. It is then illegal to enter the contaminated property (unless you are authorized).
If the property owner wishes to use the property again, they must hire an authorized contractor to decontaminate the property pursuant to a work plan approved by the local health officer. If the owner doesn’t fix the problem within 30 days of the order prohibiting use, then the local health officer or law enforcement agency can do so on its own and either pass the costs on to the owner or, if they choose, take ownership of the property. Thus, it behooves property owners to quickly remediate any contamination themselves so they don’t forfeit their property.
If you are a landlord, it is especially important to take proactive steps to prevent tenants from contaminating your property. That first includes properly screening potential tenants with thorough background checks including rental history, employment history, credit report, and criminal background. During the term of a lease, it also includes being observant of your tenant’s behaviors and appearance and regularly maintaining and observing your property.
Thankfully for occupiers of property, this law helps prevent occupation of contaminated property. If you are concerned your property may be contaminated, please contact your local authorities. More information can be found on the Washington Department of Health’s website: https://doh.wa.gov/community-and-environment/contaminants/drug-labs.
Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.
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