Conduct your own independent research
When you purchase real estate, it's likely that your attorney or your lender will require a relatively superficial environmental
review of the property prior to closing. This on-site analysis, performed by an environmental engineer or other professional,
is often required in order to obtain a mortgage. If the review shows potential issues, then ordinarily a more detailed assessment
But the buyer should never rely solely on this cursory environmental study. Once the title to the property has been transferred,
the hot potato now rests in the hands of the purchaser and with it comes responsibility for any toxicity issues associated
with the property. What you don't want to do is to pay a mortgage for 20 years only to discover that you own 100 percent of
a property that you can never sell. So what more can you do to put your mind at ease? You can use your own investigative skills
and common sense to identify certain external risks.
Consider nearby manufacturing facilities. Localities across the country are littered with abandoned plants that in their heyday maximized profits through the sidestepping
of environmental laws. A perfect example is the Love Canal region of Upstate New York. Even with operational facilities, if
it costs less to pay a fine for creating an environmental mess than it would to dispose of toxins properly, there's a good
chance the company will make the mess. And if a company can simply relocate its way out of an environmental disaster, it likely
will do that as well. What you don't want is to be a landowner down the street from a contaminating factory; look the whole
area over before you take title.
Scout out subsurface venting systems in the area. An on-site investigation of potential environmental issues at the building you want to buy probably won't reveal regional
contamination that neighbors have already had to spend money to mitigate. In order to uncover those, talk with the owners
and tenants of nearby properties. Ask if they (or the government) have had to install basement or slab ventilation systems
to reduce air contamination. Also, make it a point to walk the area and see if you spot unusual plumbing and venting on nearby
lots or buildings. What might they be venting?
Notice nearby laundry and dry cleaning businesses. The waste disposal and toxic dumping rules of today are not the rules of yesteryear. And past compliance with laws that did
exist was sketchy or worse. Ask any dry cleaning shop owner how much it costs her to have her cleaning chemicals legally disposed
of and she'll surely roll her eyes and sigh. That's because it costs plenty. But in decades past it used to cost many such
business owners nothing. They simply dug a big cistern out back and poured the nasty into it.
Migrating dry cleaning chemicals are a tremendous problem for nearby landowners, especially when the dry cleaner that caused
the contamination has gone out of business or ownership has changed. It's best to assume as a property purchaser that you
will never be successful in making a claim against such a polluter.
In short, do whatever is necessary to make sure your land is unaffected by possible indiscretions down the street. In the
world of environmental law, a pound of prevention can be worth a great deal of money and unimaginable headaches. You'll wish
you'd been more careful if you eventually discover that you own a contaminated building you literally cannot give away.
Dr. Christopher Allen is president of the Associates in Veterinary Law PC, which provides legal and consulting services to
veterinarians. Call (607) 754-1510 or email