Help! We're living on a landfill!

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by kookie, Mar 20, 2004.

  1. kookie

    kookie Member

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    We bought our 15 acres owner financed. We bought out someone elses equity, then signed a contract with the owner. To make a long story short, after we built our cabin we discovered that the owner had buried a ton of trash out here! Apparently there used to be some minnow ponds under the trees and after they dried up people started dumping their household trash in them. I guess the easiest thing he could think of to do was to cover it all up. My husband, offhandedly, asked him about it one day and he said its as deep as five feet in places!!

    I know he is at fault for not disclosing this information before we signed the contract. I just don't know what would be the best course of action at this point. My husband is worried about making waves before we get the place paid off--which will be several years. I, on the other hand, think we have the guy over a barrel.

    Our first clue we had a problem was when we started digging the hole for the electric pole. Since then we've found all sorts of trash...bottles, plastic bags, broken glass, oil filters, beer cans, syringes(!).We called the EPA and they said we would be the ones to pay if they ordered a clean-up, regardless of the circumstances, since we are buying the property. (Luckily, we didn't give them any personal info or they could've come out on their own--then where would we be?) I also spoke to an attorney and he said that an environmental study would have to be done before any charges could be brought. Of course, we can't afford that.

    What should we do? The guy does own some heavy equipment, but I can't see him volunteering to do any sort of clean-up since he just covered it up in the first place. He's a contractor and has bought up a lot of property in the area, so I'm pretty sure he's aware of the disclosure laws.

    Where the trash is buried is where we had envisioned building our house someday. In case you're wondering, we did look the property over very well before we signed any papers. We saw nothing amiss.

    Help! What would you do?
     
  2. pcdreams

    pcdreams Well-Known Member

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    how much do you have tied up in the property so far? I mean this as a retorical question. If the property is owner financed with little or nothing down, most states will allow filing a quit claim deed. Basically you loose what you've put in the property. I think in this situation I'd seriously consider it...
     

  3. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    "We called the EPA and they said we would be the ones to pay if they ordered a clean-up, regardless of the circumstances, since we are buying the property. (Luckily, we didn't give them any personal info or they could've come out on their own--then where would we be?)"

    I sure hope you did the calling from a pay phone out of your area. Otherwise the EPA likely has your phone number and all the other information which can be obtained via it.

    Ken S. in WC TN
     
  4. SueD

    SueD Well-Known Member

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    Oh my.... if its any consolation at all, most new subdivisions go in right over old landfills....

    I'm not sure if this is feasible (never had to do this)...

    Go to the guy and request that he clean it up, or at least volunteer the equipment to do so (most of it DH could run, they ain't that hard - even I can run a backhoe...) and help you pay the dump fees. Let him know PARTS of what the EPA said and try to bluff your way through.

    Another possible option if you can do a 'free consultation' with an attorney...

    I THINK... you can sue him - what you need to find out is if you should sue for whatever the balance is on your loan plus atty fees - or - cost of clean up. I'm not sure how you'd find out which would be better for you unless you luck out and find an attorney with particular experience... BUT - He cannot legally default your loan so long as YOU have records that you've paid him as per the written contract! So, he'd be stuck if you went for damages. But, so would you, as you'd never be able to be late etc etc.

    I don't think I would sell until such time as the clean-up was done - for a couple reasons. First, you don't know who else knows. Second, you'd probably have a hard time sleeping at night. Third and possibly most important... You'd be in the same position he's put himself in if you did not disclose - and if you did disclose - you would not get what you paid.

    I'm really sorry this happened.... One more thing for me to add to the list of stuff to check out when I finally get to buy.... You are in our prayers here!

    Sue
     
  5. kookie

    kookie Member

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    Giving up the property is really not an option. We've sunk everything we have into it already.

    And, yes, luckily, DH made the call to the EPA from work.

    Sue, thanks for the prayers.
     
  6. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

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    Well...

    I don't see what the big deal is, other than if it interferes with building your house. In that case, you can take care of the problem during excavation.

    Household dumps were very common and there are still some today. I would bet that just about anyone who lives on land that has been occupied for the last 50 years could find a dump on their place. I know I have at least two.

    Suing the guy won't do much for you, unless he's very wealthy. All it will do is make the situation known to the EPA, who will make you pay to clean it up. If the guy has enough money to sue, he probably has enough money to pay very good attorneys and by the time it's all said and done, you'll end up with bills for lawyers, bills for clean-up and the dump still there.

    If it were me, I'd just leave it alone. It's not the end of the world.

    Jena
     
  7. countrygrrrl

    countrygrrrl PITA

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    I tend t agree with Jena on this.

    Yesterday, among other things, I pulled up a beautiful old plaid blanket with several inches of soil and grass growing on it, a tennis shoe, half a plastic toy rifle, a few hubcaps, some hard blue plastic with some very attractive baby lizards nesting in it (black with white striping --- they weren't happy about being disturbed :) ), the metal framing for a window, a mirror and some other junk.

    It's part of my daily rounds. I've gathered up more old pots and pans, bridles, bits, hooks, farm implements, spikes and whatnot than you can shake a stick at.

    Unless the dump contains toxic materials, which it likely doesn't, your best bet is to probably get in the habit of the daily rounds. This stuff works it way to the surface over time --- and you can find cool things --- eg, my growing collection of beautiful old bricks which will someday be used for a patio! :) A free of charge patio!

    The toxic materials here, I found stored in old sheds - billions of old batteries, antifreeze up the wazoo, old oil, etc. If you have old sheds there that you haven't checked, you might get into them to see what's there.

    Buy a lot of trashbags, BTW, if you choose the walk-pickup route over suing. And plan to buy new jeans after a few months of it - it's good for the waistline and derriere!


     
  8. Gary in ohio

    Gary in ohio Well-Known Member Supporter

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    If it was just household trash I am not sure what the problem is. If there is a good layer of top soil over the old pond then your going to be an issue when digging down below the soil. If it was a business site where chemicals and toxic waste were dumpped then you should worry, but household trash. I am sure some of it is decomposed and the rest will stay put until you distrube it.

    The property is your so you will have to deal with it. Depending on when the last dumping was done, I doubt an ower is under any obligation to notify you of non-toxic dumping. As you found out you wouold have to clean it up if there was a problem.
     
  9. Little Quacker in OR

    Little Quacker in OR Well-Known Member

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    :) I am not knowledgeable about this realtor stuff but are you saying you did not go through a licensed realtor to buy this place? I remember when we bought our property here that we had a certain amount of time to declare the whole thing null and void and get our money back. It was fully inspected before we took possession. Is that the way it usually happens? I am just wondering here..not knowing about the laws and whatnot.

    That's a really important step, buying a place...you'd want all the protections you can get when you do it.

    Confused :confused: ....LOL...no surprise! LQ
     
  10. kookie

    kookie Member

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    Most of the trash would probably quailify as "household" trash (although I hope you wouldn't find beer cans full of syringes in most peoples household trash!). My main concern is something like that working its way to the surface and one of the kids stepping or falling on it or something.

    And I guess I feel a little taken advantage of.....and I really hate to be taken advantage of! :(

    We didn't go through a realtor to find the property. Maybe we should have.

    Do you think we should say anything to the guy, maybe he'd be willing to knock a little of the price or let us have the mineral rights he retained? (That mineral right thing bugs me too. :rolleyes: )
     
  11. Little Quacker in OR

    Little Quacker in OR Well-Known Member

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    :) Uhhh, Kookie? You sunk all of your money you have in the world into property with nary a thought of researching the laws first? Of course he took advantage of you. You were wearing a sheepskin and bleating "cheat me"...to a wolf. It's the natural order of the world. That's what all of these protections are for! Amazing! Barnum was right.

    I am sorry about your predicament and I haven't a clue what you should do.

    I hope others are reading this thread and learning something.

    Good luck with your situation..I sure hope all is OK and you find that it won't be such a big problem for you and the kids. Be sure you pass your learning experience on to them so they won't make the same mistake.

    hang in there....LQ
     
  12. Beeman

    Beeman Well-Known Member

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    Are you on your own well or on city water? Is city water an option? If not you might want to have your water tested for more than bacteria and install a very good filter system. I wouldn't drink the water until that is done.
     
  13. Gercarson

    Gercarson Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The mineral rights thing has had me concerned too!
    There was a time when the rights expired and reverted back to the current owner of the property - now, they are a deeded part of the land and can be bought and sold just like the land can - putting the "owner" in the position of having a home or crop destroyed by the discovery of some "mineral" find - I think oil rights go along with mineral rights - this is something that should be a fire storm to people who homestead and should be corrected with the "rights" again reverting back to the land.
     
  14. Shrek

    Shrek Singletree Moderator Staff Member

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    People want to move to the country and forget that until the early 60s, private landfills were the norm as the common view was "out of site, out of mind". There is no "pristine" lands anymore, just lands within contamination regs. Even wilderness areas are affected by pollution. The easiest way to address the sins of the past is to lay a leech barrier and put clean soil over the top in areas that you choose to plant food crops in and do raised beds. Often the fill dumps of years gone by contain treasures. A friend found the family fill dump on the property he bought and he prospected over $10,000 worth of antique glassware and other assorted things. He also took samples of the soil at various places on his property to verify no undue contaminations.
     
  15. Mike in Ohio

    Mike in Ohio Well-Known Member

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    Gercarson,

    You are confusing a right with a lease. For example, I own all the mineral rights on our property except deep coal (A specific seam which is 800 feet down).

    I could for example, sell my gas rights or I could lease them to someone. If I sell, they become the property of the buyer. Associated with that would be easements for access, etc. If I lease the rights, the person/company leasing would have to pay a certain sum each year (usually pretty nominal), and drill for gas within a certain time frame. If unsuccessful they would have to cap the well(s), etc. As long as they are producing I would get free gas (used to be free gas wasn't limited, now leases usually cap it at a certain amount anually) and a royalty payment over a certain amount. Eventually, the rights would return to me or the then current property owner....either because production ended or became uncommercial or something like that. The alternative would be that the leaseholder doesn't fulfill the requirements of the lease and it reverts back.

    For a parcel as small as 15 acres, the mineral rights would likely only be useful to kookie as a defensive measure. Kookie, you could probably go down to the county office to see if they have mineral survey maps. Not sure where you are located kookie but it might be possible that there are commercially viable minerals on a small parcel. Examples include gravel, clay, stone. I don't think coal on that small a parcel would be commercial unless it was at the surface.

    I'm a firm believer in controlling as much of the rights as possible that are associated with property I own.

    In any event, why would the seller give you the mineral rights once the deal has been made?

    If it makes you feel any better, I don't think having a realtor involved would have made any difference. The realtor wouldn't have any liability for a disclosure not made by the owner. They would only have liability if they knew something illegal and didn't disclose it.

    Did you have a title search done on the property (I would never ever ever buy a property without having a title search done!).

    I don't have any advice as to how to proceed. A lot of it is probably going to center around your sales contract. As someone else has suggested, it might be wise to consult an attorney. Your first question to the attorney should be, "what are my rights under the law?" the next question will be, "what are my remedies, if any?".

    Good luck.

    Mike
     
  16. Hoop

    Hoop Well-Known Member

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    Kookie

    This is a perfect example of how lawyers get rich.

    Do you have a legal claim to damages for nondisclosure? Perhaps. You might even win a token monetary award. Of course the legal fees will likely exceed or surpass any damages you MIGHT receive. Then consider this....if you sue the prior owner.....they could easily place an anonymous call to the EPA and report the contamination, leaving you on the hook for the cleanup costs. Cleanup costs can easily exceed the value of the property.
    The possibility of a double loss (cleanup fees + lawyer fees) is huge.


    I have no doubt if you visit a lawyer their response will be "I think we've got a good case". In reality, what they mean is "I hope you're gullible enough to employ me @ $150/hour on this case which consists of beating a dead horse".



    Realistically, I don't think your situation is all that great of a problem. Millions of people living in rural areas had garbage dumps on there property 50 years ago......and today......thousands of homes are built over old dumps. I believe this is far more common than you think. If you have a sand point for a water supply, thats a different story. Then you have grounds for concern and should have a drilled well (far beneath any surface contamination that may/may not exist) installed immediately.
     
  17. Gary in ohio

    Gary in ohio Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Mineral rights dont give people the right to come on your land a mine your property. THey give them the rights to what is under your land not on it.
    IN the case of oil, they have the right to take oil from under your land. Coal the same thing, from under your land. YOU have no say so. They cant come on your land and turn it into a oil well or coal mine.

     
  18. Laura

    Laura Well-Known Member

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    We bought our very park like piece of property for $25,000 below appraised value. On the disclosure form, the sellers listed "don't know" on the questions of buried fuel tanks, hazardous materials and such. Maybe they didn't know the extent of it as they only owned it for 2 years.

    When the rains came, I watched Pudding Hill settle and expose a red chevy junker. As we dug tree and post holes, we discovered it is indeed an entire vehicle and lots of other crap that created Pudding Hill. After talking with Old Timer neighbors, our place WAS the dumping place from 1951 to 1974. It was pushed into a pile and buried, sold, and the new owner continued to use it for a junk yard and trash dump. The folks we bought from paid a small fortune to haul all the surface crap out of here. The real kicker is after contacting Department of Defense, we find we may have buried fuel tanks (they say they will remove them this year) and we found out we have a buried ammo dump in our lower pasture. Clearing brush, we found a small mountain of cannister ring latches from the containers that hold enormous sized heavy artillery.

    We do not allow the kids to run barefoot. The new hobby is backyard archeology. We pull up all kinds of cool stuff. A 1962 Ohio Art pinwheel, brass boat hardware, vintage jelly jars, chrome door handles for vintage cars and a lot of whatizzit stuff. We have a dumpster to put the garbage in. I walk the property after heavy rains and gather broken glass, bolts, screws, disposable diapers, twisted metal and plastic stuff as it surfaces. There is less and less of it all the time.

    I'm thankful we don't have rusted tangles of barbed wire like many abandoned farms. Our well tests clear and this is most important. I do not let the fact that it was a dump ruin my enjoyment of the place.
     
  19. Mike in Ohio

    Mike in Ohio Well-Known Member

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    Gary,

    It depends on the terms of the right that was created. I've looked over any number of gas leases and gas rights contracts. I haven't seen on yet without an access/easement clause. Think about it... a right you can't exercise is no right at all.

    I've seen a few coal rights agreements (there was recently an auction advertised in Farm & Dairy for some coal rights). If it is strip mining they have to reclaim the land (regardless of what the original document says). I bid (auction) on a property a few years back in Tuscawaras county. An old stone quarry (next to a still active one) that had a high wall. That's from before they banned leaving high walls.

    Also, state laws vary with regard to mineral rights.

    Mike
     
  20. Gercarson

    Gercarson Well-Known Member Supporter

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    No, I wasn't confusing the two - on my little farm up in Illinois (sold it a while back) the abstract stated that the mineral rights would revert back to the land after 20 years. Since it had been the required 20 years I took it to my lawyer to explain the verbiage to me - he told me that the law had changed drastically a few years "back" and had been abolished - now the mineral rights were actually owned the same as the land is owned. I have also seen a few crops destroyed and roads built through them when oil is "discovered". Owning and leasing are two different animals.