LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - When is living in a former meth lab only sort of dangerous? That's the question facing hundreds of property owners across Kentucky as they grapple with the high cost of cleaning up toxic methamphetamine contamination.
Some believe the state regulations are too strict. Landlords often file appeals with the state to get their meth contamination notices downgraded. And only a third of all meth contaminated homes in Kentucky are properly cleaned up.
"I had no idea what was going on," Steven Outland said.
Outland is living in a former meth lab. His roommates were arrested for cooking methamphetamine in the home they shared on Powell Avenue in Louisville's south end. The health department immediately posted a notice of methamphetamine contamination. It warns "hazardous chemicals and residual contamination... may pose a serious health threat to those that enter."
Outland moved out, but only for a little while.
"I actually just spent a week in a homeless shelter and decided that was enough so I came here," he said.
The owner of the house, Don Sinclair, said he wants to clean up but can't afford it, so he's just going to let the home fall into foreclosure. State certified contractors charge between $3,000-$5,000 for even the smallest meth labs. The high price tag is largely because most contamination levels are automatically labeled tier 3 in the state required assessment done by police.
In Jefferson County, there are dozens of homes where meth contamination warnings were ignored. That's because there is no law that actually forces a home owner to decontaminate a home where someone has been cooking meth.
With so many meth labs located in low income areas, Energy and Environment Cabinet program coordinator Kim Greenidge knows cost makes it difficult to get these homes properly cleaned up. That's why Greenidge says Kentucky created an appeals process for property owners who don't think they have as much meth contamination as reported on that initial assessment.
But in 2012, only 5 tier reduction appeals were granted because even small labs can leave behind dangerous toxins when used repeatedly over a period of time.
That means huge headaches and bills for property owners like Dave Melton, who had to hire a state certified contractor after a tenant was arrested for cooking meth in his rental property on Swan Street in Louisville.
"It wasn't an active lab when they did the bust," Melton said. "But there was some residual stuff."
Residue that cost Melton thousands of dollars before he could safely rent out the property again.
The Kentucky Housing Corporation created a program to help innocent homeowners pay the decontamination costs but landlords like Melton don't qualify. The fund is for homeowners living on site, like a grandmother living in a home where her grandson was secretly cooking meth in the basement.
And the recipient also has to be low income.
KHC said it recently spent $50,000 to clean up just two homes.