Curren Environmental Blog

Inheriting Environmental Problem

Posted by David C Sulock on Feb 16, 2017 9:38:00 AM

Is there an Environmental Issue with your Inherited property?

It always sounds good an inherited property.  You can reap the benefits by keeping the property as your home or selling the property to cash out.  What does not sound good is if this inherited property has an underground oil tank and to top that off, the oil tank leaked.  When you inherit a property, you may be inheriting a property that can be easily sold or holds years of headaches, potential lawsuits and a financial black hole.  How can you protect yourself, first hire an attorney with experience in estates, real estate and environmental issues.  Do not disburse liquid assets in the estate as monies that are available may be needed to manage the property in the form of taxes, utilities, inspections and potential repairs are upgrades requested by a purchaser.   If you have already accepted the inheritance than you just inherited, the problem and you should seek an environmental consultant and an environmental attorney.  The laws state that whoever owns the property owns the problem.  You may choose to do nothing about the oil tank, which can deterr potential purchasers of the property as they may not be able to get a mortgage or insurance with the tank in question.

What should you do before inheriting a property?

First, know that you are not required to accept the inheritance.  You also have the right to have an inspection on the property such a structural review, home inspection, mold inspection and a tank sweep to name a few.  While you are inheriting and not buying the property the adage, buyer beware is still relevant. In cases where you are bequeathed separate items, such as items, cars, cash, stock and jewelry, you can accept one and not the other i.e., you can cherry pick.    You do not have that same luxury as non-liquid assets such as real estate. You cannot take only a part of piece of property.  

Hire an experienced Attorney and Environmental Consultant.

When inheriting a property, be it residential or commercial, you should first consult with an attorney.  Attorneys will advise you regarding Proper Due Diligence prior to acquisition of the property.  Older dilapidated properties as well as newer move in condition properties may have environmental isssues.  The property may have hidden mold (or visble for that manner in an area you are not frequenting like an attic, crawl space, ect.  There may also be there is an underground oil tank or undocumented removed tank. If either mold or tanks are unknown, you need to hire an environmental consultant.  If there is any chance that there was or may still be an oil tank on the property a tank scan should be performed.  A tank scan consists of taking measures to properly scan the property for an oil tank.  The property should be scanned with a Ground Penetrating Radar system.  This system uses a series of radar wave pulses that are directed below ground.  When a solid object is encountered such as a metal tank, the waves are reflected back to the surface with a distinct signature. GPR tends to be more reliable , than a metal detector, as metal detectors are not discriminating and will pick up naturally occurring metal in the ground, metal from buried pipes, metal in the house, fences ect.   The best approach is GPR with a metal detector verification.  If this property is a commercial property you should perform a Phase I, for more information on Phase I click here.

 823 Marlow Collage.jpg

Did the property have an Underground Oil Tank?

Find out first if there was ever an oil tank located at the property. If the dwelling is older than 1940 or was built in 1940 to 1985, there is a high possibility of an underground oil tank.  Older homes in regards to heat sources started out with wood or coal then moved to oil heating.  Also, 9 times out of 10 if there is an above ground oil tank there probably was an underground oil tank.  You may check with the borough to find out if a permit was provided to take the underground oil tank out of the ground.  But, that permit does not answer the question if the oil tank leaked.  The only answer the permit allows is that there was an underground oil tank and that tank was taken out of the ground.  The borough does not test the soil for any leak from the tank, not do they require it.  Tank removal is a construction activity, tank leaking is environmental and is handled on a state level, not on a local level.

If you do find out that there was an underground oil tank and that said tank was taken from the ground, that environmental company may have taken soil samples to make sure there was no leak.  That environmental company would hopefully, have given the property owner a report on the soil samples and if the tank leaked or did not leak.

If you have no records of any soil samples or soil testing that it is advised to get soil samples done. First you would check the soil for any contamination. In the New Jersey there are regulations of how much contamination can be in located in the soil.  If there is contamination, there may be a need to test the groundwater as well. 

Pertaining to mold, while it is ubiquitous and needed in an ecosystem (it is grass, leaves, mulch, soil), when found inside it is indoor air pollution and a health concern.   Mold needs moisture to grow, which can be supplied not just from water leaks, but also from improper ventilation or lack thereof in a structure.   Mold means you have a water issue, meaning you not only have to remediate the mold but also fix the root cause of the moisture that fuels the growth.  Mold inspections can include visual walking inspections of a site and can include sampling inside to evaluate for hidden mold.  Mold is becoming more and more of a hot issue with homebuyers and must be considered as part of an evaluation before you take possession of a property.

After your due diligence, which can include testing and remediation and review of the findings with your attorney, you will be better prepared in the decision to accept the inherited property.  Remember the estate can pay for these inspections and repairs prior to you acquiring the property. It is also important to consider that long term you will probably sell the property, and when that occurs the buyer will do their due diligence which can include the afore referenced inspections.  Better to ferret out the issues before you own the property.

 

Topics: Estate