LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A Call for Action investigation uncovers your house may have a big, dirty secret. You might think someone would have to tell you. Think again. WINK News found people living in houses that used to be meth labs. They had no idea, and now, some are worried about their safety.
Call for Action Investigator Genevieve Judge paid some people in Southwest Florida a surprise visit. She started her surprise tour in Cape Coral. In February, two meth labs were shut down by Cape Coral police officers in the same week, but WINK News found people living in one of those homes a few weeks later, without ever being told what happened inside.
"When you moved in, what did they tell you?" said Genevieve Judge, WINK News Investigator.
"They didn't tell us nothing," said Marco Hernandez, renter.
When Marco and his brother Mario moved into 1312 Southeast Avenue in Cape Coral, they heard a lot about bedrooms and bathrooms, but never heard this.
"We moved in. A week and a half later, one of my friends who lives down the street, he came over and he said you guys know this is a meth house?" said Mario.
Just a few weeks earlier, a woman was arrested for manufacturing methamphetamines inside the house. So, how is it the Hernandez brothers were never told?
"Florida statue 689.25 clearly states you do not have to disclose HIV, murder, suicide or a death in the home," said Scott Kuhn, real estate attorney.
Kuhn said even though Florida law says sellers must disclose facts that affect the value of a property, a meth lab isn't usually one of those facts.
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing would you say?" said Judge.
"I think they should disclose them, but I also think the buyer should ask. The buyer should do their own research. The buyer should go and see the neighbors, and the buyers need to be a knowledgeable consumer," said Kuhn.
Looking back, Mario said there were clues.
"We found a needle in the house. If you touch the walls, it's dirty," said Mario.
WINK News wanted to know who else around Southwest Florida was living in a house with a past. In Port Charlotte, we uncovered another woman who has been living in a home for three years. The DEA said it was a meth lab in 2004.
"I'm doing a story about homes that used to be meth labs, and I didn't know if you knew if this home used to be a meth lab about 10 years ago," Genevieve asked.
"No, I wasn't," said Juanita Deackoff.
For these renters, safety is a concern.
"If you move into this house and someone had an enemy with a person who was drug dealer or whatever, what happens if they want to retaliate or something? You're in danger," said Deackoff.
"Its kind of scary. You don't know if they had enemies out there. They could come knocking on my door thinking they still live here," said Mario.
How can you tell if your home used to be a meth lab? It comes down to doing your own research. Fred Sylvester has been a building inspector for 20 years and said they're not trained to look for things like meth, but he suggests talking to neighbors.
"Go and knock on some doors next to the house and say, 'Hey, is there anything peculiar that you would, or that I would like to know if I was purchasing that home or if you were purchasing that home?' Neighbors are going to know. Neighbors are people, we all kind of like to talk," said Sylvester.
You can also search online or call your local police department or sheriff's office and ask for a check on your address.
"There's websites out there that list meth homes, drug homes, violent murder homes and they should have to do their own research," said Kuhn.
For Marco and Mario, WINK News called their property manager who told us over the phone they were aware of a drug related arrest, but did not confirm it was a meth lab.
"None of that has to be disclosed to someone renting or buying," said Judge. "That's crazy. That's crazy. I think that should be told at least before you move in," said Mario.
Signs of a meth lab usually include large quantities of common house hold products like matches, rubbing alcohol, drain cleaner and hydrogen peroxide. If you see these, you'll want to call police.