January/February 2024 Law/Advocacy

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A l l i a n c e

Meet The Iconic Kathi McCarty

The Lawmaker Against Meth: Her Journey of Legislative Impact

K a t h i  M c C a r t y

What does Iconic mean to you?

To me, iconic means striving for and representing distinctive excellence in a particular area.

How has your personal experience led to the founding of Meth Toxins Awareness Alliance?

I will never forget the smells inside my 1956 restored log cabin home nestled among the soothing pine trees in the mountain foothills west of Colorado’s front range. It was a cesspool of toxicity and germs. Such a shockingly disgusting smel —and not just because of the meth that had been cooked, or even the THC that was being extracted from cannabis in the backyard. In 2017, I had to leave my employment after a thirty plus year career in lending and banking to focus on recovering from a life-changing health event that started in early 2016 that almost cost me my sight. I am beyond grateful to have had highly skilled surgeons that saved my sight after four surgeries in nine months. To help pay for the substantial costs of medical care and my next chapter, I made what I thought was a prudent decision to hire a professional property management company, and temporarily rent out our beloved cabin after my youngest went off to college. I planned to return to our quaint, tranquil home, after one year and continue creating years of memories where I had cherished raising my two teen sons since 2013. My daughter had already gone off to college by the time I purchased this home as a single mom.

Unfortunately, what seemed like a sensible solution to leverage my largest asset, my home, quickly turned into my worst nightmare. Ninety days after the lease was signed, I received a phone call from the property manager. The property manager said, “Kathi, there’s been a waterline break outside your home, and we have our guys working on minor repairs”. I was not alarmed given it was communicated she had her plumber working on the minor repair, an individual I had already previously used. The next morning I jetted up to her cabin after receiving a text “they were digging”, which was never mentioned. Shocked was an understatement as I viewed a huge excavation tractor and a significant hole in my driveway several feet long, wide, and deep. When I walked around to the backyard with the excavator, I saw items, including propane tanks, hoses, steel cylinders, five gallon buckets, and more. Ultimately, it was identified by law enforcement as an extraction system to ultimately manufacture high potency THC products. The equipment was not visible to anyone, including the sheriff’s office substation located a very short distance away. One can view their vehicles through the trees from my property. We were in a serious fire ban all summer, and the tenant had put my neighbors and the entire community at huge risk with the hazardous equipment both inside and outside the cabin.

I immediately notified the property manager, inquiring about her knowledge from the previous day’s visit. Her text responses were highly dismissive. I requested and received a few photos of the inside of the cabin from the property manager, which proved the presence of additional explosive equipment, more suspicious behavior, plus, the interior had also been trashed by the tenant. None of these findings were mentioned by the property manager during our previous conversation the evening before. I needed help and decided to get local law enforcement involved who then engaged our West Metro Drug Task Force. They obtained a search warrant within 48 hours to enter the premises. Inside they found meth paraphernalia, manufacturing equipment and ingredients, and 802 grams of meth along with other drugs and a small arsenal of guns.

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The tenant fled during the search, and was arrested later that day on 12 felony counts for his activities. He was released on bail within 48 hours. Before I could proceed with repairing the water line break, I had to ensure the workers and my safety since the tenant became verbally abusive and would not leave the property. I then spent the next month with the assistance of an attorney, firing the property manager, the management company and having to pursue having the tenant evicted. Once I regained possession, I then discovered he had stopped the toilets, left rotting food and more. The stench was gross! There was a chemical smell intertwined with a musty odor of humans who probably haven’t showered or practiced proper hygiene for weeks. It was disgraceful.

I was then able to move forward with hiring a state certified company to determine the level of meth toxins in the cabin and next steps. Significantly high levels of meth toxins were detected on every tested surface, including the log walls, flooring, and ventilation system of every room, including her sons’ bedrooms. Although the tenant had lived there just ninety days, the county declared the home uninhabitable and condemned it. Ultimately, I was shocked to learn about the dangerous toxins methamphetamine use by smoking or manufacturing leaves. How come after working in a real estate-related industry and roles, including management and at the executive level, had I never heard about meth toxins and the irrefutable damage it can cause to humans, pets, and properties? Judy Sawitsky, owner of WeeCycle Environmental LLC, and I spoke on my deck in depth after a couple hours gathering samples. We discussed how common this was, awareness of meth toxins, and if she ever talked about this to property owners or professionals in a public forum. This was the inception of Meth Toxins Awareness Alliance. A movement created for prevention through 3 pillars: education, advocacy, and resources.  

What were some of the initial challenges you faced when you discovered your property had been used as a meth lab?

I found myself climbing 100 huge hurdles, especially in the first 100 days! Frankly, I was never able to overcome some of the most significant obstacles. I was terrified. I had lost all of my sense of safety and security knowing that the tenant was free. My mind and emotions were always on high alert, while I stayed with my sister, and then I moved around for everyone’s safety.

Plus, I had to deal with the significant damage to our sacred space. The meth testing company shared the report with six different remediation companies specializing in meth toxins. None thought they could be successful, but most were willing to try. Nine of the eleven samples were between 69-119.5 with a standard of .5. I turned to my insurance carrier and the tenant’s policy for assistance in costs, including remediating the property, only to learn that contaminants and criminal activity are exclusions that can void all residential property insurance protections and tenant policies, which it did in my case. Our insurance industry and civil judicial process can be illusions of protection if we don't know our exclusions. A simple and powerful fact that I learned quickly.

Also, I attempted to hold the property management company responsible for what I considered them violating their fiduciary responsibility to me once I learned they had not vetted the tenant as we discussed verbally. Not even a credit report was obtained, or a single reference, or income verification confirmed. Plus, all while I pursued a civil suit against the management company and tenant, I continued to make my mortgage payment to keep my credit intact and preserve my equity. I was on a shorter loan payoff schedule with plans to retire in 10 years or less with no mortgage. I was paying thousands of dollars to financially manage this, while the management company chose not to accept any responsibility for what had happened. For the next eighteen months, I fought civil legal battles, which further depleted me both emotionally and financially, all while the tenant was out of jail on bail. He then fled his criminal trial set for January 2020, which added further complications to my civil suit given we did not have a chance to depose him or go into a civil trial with a criminal conviction. He was looking at up to 32 years in prison for his actions in the home, so no one was surprised he fled.  

Then, at the time of the civil trial, the pandemic hit in March 2020. A jury trial would have been delayed, and the civil judge was not able to extend the civil suit case indefinitely. Evidence was strong, but circumstances were highly unique. I was contemplating selling the property hoping to get enough to pay off the mortgage and move on. Keeping it seemed highly dangerous with the tenant on the loose, more costly to demolish it, and unlikely I could settle for enough to rebuild any acceptable dwelling by the county. Also, I was dealing with a slight disability, reduced income from my vice president management position, and more.

 K a t h i  M c C a r t y

What are some key facts you wish more people knew about methamphetamine contamination?

There are many facts starting with methamphetamine use that continues to be an epidemic level. There are no geographical or socioeconomic boundaries to who or where meth is smoked. This is undisputed by law enforcement agencies, the criminal justice system, and social service organizations. There is no government or private organization or agency that will help a property owner with meth contamination after the fact. Bottom line, is no FEMA like organization for property owners to get financial help with meth contamination.! A strong offense is your best defense by preventing an impact! Awareness and education of methamphetamine toxins are key. Smoking either recreationally or addiction leaves a highly toxic residue that travels everywhere active and passive air does and sticks to all surfaces. Highly porous materials such as drywall, wood, fabrics, ventilation systems and more. Depending on the levels and individuals, these toxins can be very dangerous to an individuals health, especially babies, children, at risk adults and our pets.

Our Property insurance policies residential or commercial will not cover methamphetamine contamination in most cases. Currently, I am still unable to find any company that offers an endorsement, and am actively seeking (an) organizations that will consider this initiative. Buyer(s) and tenants beware! Only half our states have any laws or regulations relating to methamphetamine toxins, and half have nothing. Disclosure of previous methamphetamine contamination in a home is not required in a real estate transaction except in 6 states, and even those have loopholes. Consider testing before you buy or occupy. Plus, even if a property has been remediated to that state’s standards, the testing process is not perfect as it is a small sample of the entire property’s surfaces.

Methamphetamine contamination is not only limited to real estate residential or commercial. It is also commonly found to contaminate vehicles, RV and trailers. Other property types many don’t consider are short and long term rentals, dorm rooms, and even new construction. Plus, properties that are multi-units can have cross contamination through units, hallways, and more. Even new construction properties have tested positive.

Can you share the educational initiatives your organization undertakes to raise awareness about methamphetamine contamination?

During the pandemic, I worked with meth contamination companies in Colorado that had approved continuing education classes for Realtors and Property Managers through our state's Department of Regulatory Agency (DORA) Division of Real Estate. I coordinated 12 online classes via zoom to almost 500 realtors and real estate related affiliates. This experience and education sparked me to develop a class designed more for awareness and prevention for both professionals and property owners, buyers and occupants. I worked tirelessly with KathleenJuneCoaching.com with over 30 years of instructional design and adult learning education. This course Meth Toxins in Real Estate; Tips, Tools, Resources is a six module class approved and launched in 2023. There are both 2 hour, 2 CE credits, 3 hour, 3 CE credit options. Since then, I have conducted many classes via zoom, and in person, with our largest class at 68 people. Our hosts have included: real estate associations, major title companies, and real estate franchises. We are already confirming classes for 2024. I will be expanding to our DORA Division of Insurance and other states as well.  

Could you elaborate on your Colorado legislation and its impact?

The legislative advocacy segment of my focus has been some of the most rewarding and the most challenging. My passion was driven by the outcome of my own cabin where I sold it fully contaminated, and thus fully disclosed as required by law in a real estate sale here in Colorado. It was purchased by a local individual guided by the spouse. They communicated they understood there were no guarantees the home could be cleaned to meet our state safety levels, which it did not. They chose to “encapsulate” the meth sealing it in with an approved sealant. They were able to sell it undisclosed 5 ½ months after they purchased it from me for almost $300,000 more. The agent I used to sell it to was also hired by the new buyer to sell it. When the listing agent published their highly successful story on social media, I also received a copy by the agent of a communication they sent expressing their position that they were only following their seller’s wishes and the law. It was then that I knew I needed to find a way to change our disclosure law.

We had a status conference in January 2023 to learn the positions and discuss what progress could be made in our upcoming 2023 legislative session. Getting the support of our state real estate association was proving to be impossible as their leadership’s position was one that defined previous methamphetamine contamination, similar to stigmatizing a property’s value, and similar to a dead body found in the property. Yet, mold, radon, lead, and asbestos all had to be disclosed even when these contaminants were eliminated to the states standards. I learned there is a strong division amongst leaders in real estate in Colorado. I respect there is a variation of perspectives. My opinion is that if our state health department establishes that the property is deemed safe for occupancy, then what is the secret? Why not full transparency of previous contamination so a future owner in a real estate transaction has the ability to complete their due diligence, understand and weigh all factors, evaluate risk tolerances, and make a fully informed decision. Instead, it becomes a situation of buyer beware.  

K a t h i  M c C a r t y

How do you approach collaborating with lawmakers and other stakeholders to further your cause?

I am evaluating this topic as I intend to continue to champion a disclosure law, even if we continue with baby steps, including disclosure if meth toxins over the state approved limits are encapsulated. I have an upcoming meeting scheduled with one of our state representatives to address next steps.  

What are the long-term goals of Meth Toxins Awareness Alliance in the fight against methamphetamine contamination?

Ultimately, I would like to see a federal mandate of standards, laws, and disclosure requirements. There is no deviation to the health and financial impacts from state to state. Only just how we respond to them. I am also working on an initiative pursuing the property insurance industry to be more proactive about awareness and education for their clients, along with an industry endorsement prototype that can be purchased with a property policy. I intend to continue to expand the states I will be offering CE classes starting with California, Arizona, Florida, Montana, and Illinois. Also, I would like to expand into Washington and Oregon. I want to develop a webinar and in-person class for property buyers, owners, and anyone really who does not care about CE credits to help them protect their loved ones health and their financial stability.  

How does the “smart” meth alarm work?

Recently, I began representing a new revolutionary “smart” detection tool in the fight for prevention of meth contamination. Meth alarm detector sensors identify the consumption, or manufacture of meth, sending a notification to the property owner or designated recipient. If smoking and/or manufacture of methamphetamine is detected, the Meth Alarm will send an instant alarm activation to your mobile phone. This instant notification will also alert you if the device is moved , batteries removed all to avoid tampering, and alert you when the battery life is at approximately 20% left.  

What advice would you give to individuals who suspect methamphetamine contamination in their area?

Our little cabin in the woods could not recover from the dangerous toxins that seeped into the bones of our sacred space. I refuse to allow this experience to defeat me. We need solutions to navigate the complicated path of addiction and meth toxins contamination. Prevention is one of the most effective strategies available for host properties of various types, including housing authorities, section 8.

I have learned from experts in law enforcement, agencies, and organizations, that there are few communities who are rarely totally unaffected. Several of our public libraries along the Colorado Front Range down to Pueble are a perfect example. Prevention is the key. Once you are jammed up in this situation, it is usually impossible to get financially back to break even. Many simply silently live in their contaminated properties because they have no other option, nowhere to go, and no way to get out of their situation. Others simply leave their keys and walk away, leaving their equity behind and tanking their credit.

How has your personal journey changed your perspective on public health and safety?

There is a lot I have learned about the areas of our government who are there to do the right thing. I have a high respect for people who serve to protect, learned that there are many individuals and organizations doing the best they can, and there are no perfect answers. For me, I don’t want anyone to go through what my family and I had to endure. It is my mission to create a movement of prevention similar to what has been created with opioids and fentanyl. I want the education and advocacy work to leave a legacy that can help others with prevention.

K a t h i  M c C a r t y

Follow At:
Facebook: Meth Toxins Awareness Alliance
LinkedIn: Kathi McCarty

Photoshoot Credits:

Photographers: Stephanie Perlowski  and Jennifer MacNiven

Photography Local Government & Housing Committee including: Senate sponsor Senator Lisa Cutter, Attorney Patricia Mellen Esq, Mary Anne Bach, Eric Hererra, and Kathi McCarty

Elena Thornton and Jim Thornton Photography

FEMA Image Creator: Diana Simard