JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Warning! Danger! Hazardous Chemicals! These neon signs hang at homes immediately after a meth lab is found inside, but fast forward a few months and then what? For sale signs go up, homes get rented out, and oftentimes unsuspecting people move in.
"Do you know your home used to be a meth home,” Action News asked Mark Stewart.
"Ha! You're kidding me,” Stewart exclaimed.
Stewart says he’s rented this Orange Park home for the last year never knowing the history behind it. But in big bold letters, we found Stewart’s address on a list straight from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office detailing where meth labs once were.
“No one mentioned it," Stewart said.
So we reached out to Stewart’s landlord ourselves. We were told over the phone, she’d spent $10,000 cleaning up the property immediately after the bust in 2010. But while she says she did disclose it to the first tenant to move in after it happened, she hasn’t since.
Turns out, it happens more often than you think.
"Does anything show up in your system that would flag you,” Action News asked Lesley Vitel, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty.
"No, the real answer to that is no it doesn't,” Vitel said.
Action News took a list of local homes where meth labs have been uncovered to Vitel. The homes are registered on the “National Clandestine Laboratory Register.”
But Vitel couldn’t find them in her own database.
“There is nothing on any searchable websites, sheriff’s department, or county property appraiser’s website that will clue you in as to whether a home has been a meth lab,” Vitel said.
But if meth is dangerous enough for a warning label on a front door, why is there no warning for unknowing renters or home buyers?
We took our questions to Randy Crabtree, a real estate attorney who’s been practicing here in Jacksonville for more than 25 years.
"Right now, Florida has nothing that says you have to disclose it. There is no law. There is no legislation," said Crabtree.
The only state legislation we could find was vague. It states the “duty of the real estate licensee” is to “disclose all known facts that materially affect the value and are not readily observable to the buyer.”
But since meth isn’t labeled in the legislation, Crabtree says it can fall through the cracks.
"It is definitely a gray area,” said Crabtree.
Here in Florida, you’re at the mercy of an owner or landlord to be honest.
"It's a situation that's just gotten out of control,” said Crabtree. “It's an area that definitely needs to be addressed by legislation at some point in the future."
But while those laws lag behind, the meth epidemic is only getting bigger.
Action News reporter Alex Hill sat down with Sgt. Chuck Mulligan with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office to talk about the current meth epidemic.
"Three or four years ago, we had zero,” said Mulligan. “Now just a rough estimate, we're responding to one maybe every month,”
Mulligan says his deputies recently started reporting meth busts to the property appraiser’s office, but good luck trying to find that information out on their web site.
“It's really not a part of our mission to keep that type of information,” St. Johns County Assistant Property Appraiser Pamela Mann said.
However, Mann did admit that it makes sense for homeowners to have it. She tells us they’re currently working with other St. Johns County agencies to find out a way to make that information more public.
Mulligan says the goal is some sort of meth home database. But ultimately, that’ll be up to the county commission to draft an ordinance to get that approved.
Until that system is in place, Action News has uncovered the only surefire way to know if your home was once a meth home is to pick up the phone and call the sheriff’s office.