How to Check If Your Condo Has a Criminal Past

Crime Scene InvestigationA version of this post by James White was originally posted by MyFirstApartment.com

It’s the spooky time of the year again, so let’s take a look at another one of condo buyer’s nightmares – unknowingly purchasing a place with a criminal past. Yes, it can and does happen with rentals as well as sales.  The first telltale sign is often that the asking price is far below market. Any time you find a condo that looks like an unusually great deal, considering the condition and location, ask yourself what’s the catch.

There are many factors that contribute to picking the perfect place. While most prospective buyers focus on size, price, location and charm when looking for an condo, it’s easy to miss checking out another important factor: its criminal record. A condo that has been a site for a crime can have a huge impact on its future owners.

In 2011, a young couple moved into an apartment in Tulsa, Okla. During the three months when they lived there, each experienced sickness including nausea and vomiting, severe breathing problems and migraines, and both tenants went to the hospital several times for their illnesses. Only after they had been ill for months did the couple discover that the apartment beneath theirs had once been a meth lab, and was recently busted and shut down by the police. Since cooking meth requires little hardware and is easy to conceal, there have been hundreds of cases like this, affecting the health of  those who have moved in next.  Meth contamination cannot be seen and the clean-up is expensive, from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, so an unethical seller may just skip the cost and keep quiet.

Buyers who have moved into apartments where prostitution or drug dealing took place may face both unsettling and dangerous future in their new home. When unsavory strangers loiter around their place and knock on their door looking for the previous  owner, feelings of privacy and safety are compromised.

Unfortunately, in many cases where a condo has a criminal past, the broker and the seller will not, or need not, to disclose it – the prospective buyers have to do their own research.  For example, the article 443-a of New York Real Property Law addresses this, so called “stigmatized property” disclosure, as it relates to sale or leasing of the property.  It specifically states that sellers and their agents do not have to disclose if the property was a site of deaths, suicide, homicide or crime,  even upon a written request of the buyer or buyer’s agent.  Obviously, if the buyer makes a written request for that type of information and seller does not comply, it should raise serious red flags.

Searching for the Truth

If you have rented or bought apartments in the past, you may have found out the hard way that not all landlords and sellers are as honest as they should be regarding your apartment.  Therefore, if your apartment – or others in your building – has  been a place for criminal activity, chances are you may never be told.  However,  there are some steps you can take to make sure your future home has a clean past.

The best place to start your investigation is a basic Internet search – just Google/Bing/Yahoo the exact address.  Then research police reports for the unit in question as well as the town you are planning on moving to, in order to see if your potential future condo, or those nearby, have experienced criminal activity. When scanning for results, check for break-ins close to the apartment, as well as drug-related activity and sex offenders close by, as these could indicate danger for new owners. Also research any accidents, such as fires or structural damage that may have occurred in the building.

Another way to research is to simply type in the address of your condo on a website that provides criminal reports by location. If your searches yield no results, the apartment probably has a clean criminal record. Also, if you are curious about whether a death has occurred in your new place (either by violent or natural causes), there is a website that will, for a fee, dig up the dirt for you.

Another way to find out if the apartment in question has a criminal past is to ask the neighbors. Knock on a few doors near your future apartment and ask the residents about any unusual/illegal activities or recent tragedies that may have happened around the complex. Another good question to ask your potential neighbors is whether the community feels safe, and if they find that strangers hang around the building, as this may be a tip-off to a drug or prostitution activity. Make sure you ask in a friendly, casual manner so your future neighbors don’t think you are accusing them of doing something against the law.

While looking for a new apartment can be exciting, it is a process that requires much attention to detail. Do your research and check for the danger signs. You’ll be glad you did!

Our contributor, James White, is a freelance construction worker and blogs in his free time at Homey Improvements. He also enjoys hiking, photography, and improving his own home. Follow him on Twitter@DIYfolks.

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