Curren Environmental Blog

Why Perform a Phase I Environmental Assessment Review?

Posted by David C Sulock on Apr 8, 2016 11:00:00 AM

Who Requires A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)?

Phase_I.jpg Phase_1.1.jpg

Who Requires A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)?

Traditionally, a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) was contracted by the bank or lending institution on properties where financing was being arranged.  The Phase I was primarily performed for the protection of the banks, who were concerned that if they loaned money for a contaminated property they may be held liable for the site cleanup.   This belief was incorrect as banks have liability protection on loans.   Today, many banks with loans under a million dollars and borrowers supplying a down payment do not require a Phase I.  This has been an industry shift over the past several years as banks have come to understand where their limit of liability stands.    The real liability is financially for the bank, as they are concerned that the cost of environmental work can hinder the borrower from paying the mortgage and defaulting.  Leaving the bank to own the asset.   Banks want to loan money and receive mortgage payments not foreclose on bad loans.

What is included in a Phase I?

The Phase I is a property assessment that includes a walkover of the property and associated structures; a review of historic property information including maps, aerial photographs, deeds, telephone or address directories, etc.; a review of contaminated properties in the vicinity of the subject property; a summary of knowledgeable party information and review of prior reports; and the review of local, State and Federal files pertaining to the property address.

Items evaluated in the Phase I report include tanks, drains, pits, spills, in-ground and aboveground equipment, petroleum and chemical use, and environmental liens.

The Phase I report is typically research only.  Unless otherwise specified as part of the scope of work, testing or surveys are outside of the typical Phase I requirements. For more information on Phase I click here. 

Why complete a Phase I if my bank does not require one?

Although many banks are not requiring a Phase I on some commercial loans (under a million or low risk), the environmental regulations leave the burden of environmental responsibility on the property owner.  Performing a Phase I, allows a purchaser to complete the necessary due diligence.  This due diligence enables a purchaser to obtain prior to taking possession of a property.  Buyer beware is relevant now more than ever in commercial real estate transactions.  If a property is purchased without a due diligence and future evaluation and subsequent environmental issues are found in association with the property, the property owner is now burdened with the cost of remediating the issue. The performance of a pre-purchase Phase I could alleviate the potential for finding environmental issues in the future and thereby holding up future transactions.  As a potential purchaser, the determination of environmental issues on a property could be used as leverage for the seller to remediate the concern prior to purchase or could be used to negotiate the property value pending the need for the potential purchaser to perform the cleanup.

Phase I, II, III Questions? Click Here

If I do not do a Phase I and buy a property how would I ever find out if there was an environmental problem with the site?

The most common way is when you go to sell and the potential buyer completes a Phase I and discovers an environmental Area of Concern (AOC).   Today the largest purchaser of Phase I’s is not the banks, but commercial real estate investors and owners (*transactions under $1,000,000.00).

I own a property, never had a Phase I and I am now thinking of selling the property.  Do property owners have Phase I’s performed?

One of the largest shifts in the commercial real estate market today is that many landowners are having a Phase I performed to root out environmental issues before they become an issue when a buyer is found.   An owner performed Phase I is viewed as both a marketing tool and an environmental property assessment that can help sellers anticipate issues with a property.  It can be akin to a homeowner having a home inspection completed to address issues that a purchaser might find during their inspection. 

If an environmental issue is found in a Phase I report on a property I am buying, can I still purchase the property?

If the issue is fully disclosed to the lender (if one is involved) and the buyer is willing to accept the liability and cost of addressing the issue, then yes you can buy the property.  However, the real question is should I address the issue before buying the property?

The investigation of potential issues found in the Phase I is typically addressed as part of a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment.

Tags: Phase I

All Appropriate Inquiries Innocent Landowner Defense

Posted by David C Sulock on Feb 16, 2016 3:54:12 PM

 

Due Diligence and the Innocent Landowner Defense

 

The experienced and well informed know that due diligence is an important and common practice when purchasing real estate.  The advantage of due diligence and conversely not performing due diligence can best be compared to the saying "you break it, you buy it".  In real estate terms if you buy a property that has an environmental issue (broken) that you were not aware of prior to purchase, you own it and the issue is yours to pay for no matter the cost or value of the real estate.

For example a couple received an inheritance from a relative, the money's were substantial enough for the couple to realize a dream of buying and operating an automotive garage.  This dream was achieved by buying a garage cash from a fellow who was retiring.  They were able to buy the land and tools for approximately $100,000.00. (As a side note the lower the value of the property, the more risk there is that an environmental issue can be a large percentage of the property price. I say this as time and again prospective buyers defer a Phase I as the purchase price is low).   They used an attorney for the paperwork, but no bank was involved.  While the attorney advised of performing a Phase I, the buyers were not concerned and did not want to derail the deal for something they saw as a waste of time and money.   Couple buys property, run the garage for three years and then husband develops health concerns limiting physical activity such as working on cars.  Couple list property for sale, potential buyer finds property and decides to buy it.  Buyer goes to bank, as he is not able to pay cash as the current owner did.  Bank does phase I, finds issues leading to a phase II. Phase II finds oils in ground from garage operations. Buyer requires owner to remediate, owners say not their problem and are selling as is.  

Deal falls through, owner now paying money from retirement to cleanup the problem.  Buyer is gone, garage is closed and owners are spending 50% of what they paid to cleanup the site. 

Can the owners claim an innocent landowner defense?  

No, the innocent landowner defense is based upon a party purchasing a property and having no knowledge of contamination at time of purchase. A buyer must perform an all appropriate inquiries (AAI) prior to purchase to begin to have this defense.

 

What does an All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) inquiry entail?

Completion of a Phase I ESA as per

  1. All Appropriate Inquiries

“All appropriate inquiries” refers to the process of evaluating a property’s environmental conditions and assessing potential liability for contamination either past or present.  This applies to any party seeking to assert protection from CERCLA liability as an innocent landowner, or a bona fide prospective purchaser, or a contiguous property owner. 

In 2002 Brownfields Amendments were set forth requiring the EPA to establish regulations establishing standards and practices for conducting all appropriate inquiries. These practices were meant to include research into the previous ownership and uses of a property necessary to qualify for certain landowner liability protections. 

November 1, 2005, the EPA published in the Federal Register its final rule entitled “Standards and Practices for All Appropriate Inquiries,” in which it declared that the American Society for Testing and Materials (“ASTM”) E1527-05 standard, entitled “Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process,” can be used to comply with the provisions of the rule.  The standards and practices constituting “all appropriate inquiries” are set forth in 40 C.F.R. Part 312.

 

Get answers to Phase I Questions

What is included in the All Appropriate Inquiries?

  1. Must be conducted or updated within one year of acquiring ownership of a property. 
  2. Interviews with past and present owners, operators, and occupants, the review of government records, visual site inspections, and searches for environmental cleanup liens, must be conducted or updated within 180 days prior to acquiring ownership of the property.
  3. An environmental professional must conduct or oversee the conduct of activities required by the all-appropriate inquiry rule. 
  4. The environmental professional must conduct the following inquiry activities:
  • Interviews with past and present owners, operators, and occupants of the facility for the purpose of gathering information regarding the potential for contamination at the facility;
  • Reviews of historical sources, such as chain of title documents, aerial photographs, building department records, and land use records, to determine previous uses and occupancies of the real property since the property was first developed;
  • Reviews of Federal, State, and local government records, waste disposal records, underground storage tank records, and hazardous waste handling, generation, treatment, disposal, and spill records, concerning contamination at or near the facility;
  • Walking inspections of the site and of adjoining properties;
  • Assessments of commonly known or reasonably ascertainable information about the property; and
  • Assessments of the degree of obviousness of the presence or likely presence of contamination at the property, and the ability to detect the contamination by appropriate inspection.
  • 5 Searches for recorded environmental cleanup liens against the site that are filed under Federal, State, or local law.
  1. Assessments of specialized knowledge or experience on the part of the prospective landowner.
  2. The relationship of the purchase price to the value of the property, if the property was not contaminated.

An innocent landowner defense also extends to the operation and maintenance of the site after purchase. Once the property is owned the new owner must take reasonable steps to stop any continuing release, prevent any future release, and prevent or limit human, environmental, or natural resource exposure to any previously released hazardous substances. The owner must also cooperate, provide assistance, and allow access to persons to conduct response actions or natural resource restoration at the site. Owners must maintain any and all land use restrictions and not degrade the effectiveness of institutional controls.

Additional responsibilities cover cooperating with requests and administrative subpoenas concerning the facility and follow through with all legally required notices (public notification and government) regarding the discovery or release of any hazardous substances at the facility.

Lastly to comply with AAI, the purchaser cannot be associated/affiliated with any other potentially responsible party through any direct or indirect familial relationship, or any contractual, corporate, or financial relationship (excluding relationships created by instruments conveying or financing title or by contracts for the sale of goods or services).

Bottom line the new owner has to be able to prove that the environmental contamination damages were caused by a third party with whom the new owner does not have an employment, agency, or contractual relationship, as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 9601(35).

Buyers beware and perform your due diligence so you know before you buy?

Tags: Phase I, AAI All Appropriate Inquiries

Why perform a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment

Posted by david sulock on May 4, 2011 10:42:00 AM

Who requires a Phase I ESA?

Traditionally, a Phase I was contracted by the bank or lending institution on properties where financing was being arranged.  The Phase I was primarily  performed for the protection of the banks, who were concerned that if they loaned money for a contaminated property they may be held liable for the site cleanup.  Today, many banks with loans under a million dollars and borrowers supplying a down payment do not require a Phase I.  This has been an industry shift over the past several years as banks have come to understand where their limit of liability stands.

Cost for a Phase I ESA

Phase I Environmental

 

 

What is included in a Phase I?

The Phase I is a property assessment that includes a walkover of the property and associated structures; a review of historic property information including maps, aerial photographs, deeds, telephone or address directories, etc.; a review of contaminated properties in the vicinity of the subject property; a summary of knowledgeable party information and review of prior reports; and the review of local, State and Federal files pertaining to the property address.

Items evaluated in the Phase I report include: tanks, drains, pits, spills, in-ground and aboveground equipment, petroleum and chemical use, and environmental liens.

Additional issues which may be included in the Phase I at the lenders or clients request include: wetlands, radon, asbestos, lead-based paint, and drinking water. 

The Phase I report is typically research only.  Unless otherwise specified as part of the scope of work, testing or surveys are outside of the typical Phase I requirements.

Why complete a Phase I if my bank does not require one?

Although many banks are not requiring a Phase I on some commercial loans, the environmental regulations leave the burden of environmental responsibility on the property owner.  Performing a Phase I, allows a purchaser to complete the necessary due diligence.  It is this due diligence that enables a purchaser to obtain prior to taking possession of a property.  Buyer beware is relevant now more than ever in commercial real estate transactions.  If a property is purchased without a due diligence evaluation and subsequent environmental issues are found in association with the property, the property owner is now burdened with the cost of remediating the issue. The performance of a pre-purchase Phase I could alleviate the potential for finding environmental issues in the future and thereby holding up future transactions.  As a potential purchaser, the determination of environmental issues on a property could be used as leverage for the seller to remediate the concern prior to purchase or could be used to negotiate the property value pending the need for the potential purchaser to perform the cleanup.

If I don’t do a Phase I and buy a property how would I ever find out if there was an environmental problem with the site?

The most common way is when you go to sell and the potential buyer completes a Phase I and discovers an environmental Area of Concern (AOC).   Today the largest purchaser of Phase I’s is not the banks, but commercial real estate investors and owners (*transactions under $1,000,000.00).

I own a property, never had a Phase I and I am now thinking of selling the property.  Do property owners have Phase I’s performed?

One of the largest shifts in the commercial real estate market today is that many land owners are having a Phase I performed to root out environmental issues before they become an issue when a buyer is found.   A buyer performed Phase I is viewed as both a marketing tool and an environmental property assessment that can help sellers anticipate issues with a property.  It can be akin to a homeowner having a home inspection completed to address issues that a purchaser might find during their inspection. 

If an environmental issue is found in a Phase I report on a property I am buying, can I still purchase the property?

 If the issue is fully disclosed to the lender (if one is involved) and the buyer is wiling to accept the liability and cost of addressing the issue, then yes you can buy the property.  But the real question is should I address the issue before buying the property?

The investigation of potential issues found in the Phase I is typically addressed as part of a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment.

Tags: Phase I, Environmental Site Assessment, ASTM 1527-05, Property Transaction Screens