Federal law frequently requires the owners and operators of property that is polluted with hazardous wastes to bear the cost of cleaning them up. This means that if you purchase a facility site that contains such pollutants, you may be forced to clean them up — and this could be enormously expensive. Although you would not be without defenses to such a government claim, merely proving that you in no way were the cause of the pollution is not enough. You must have had no knowledge of the condition, and you must have made a good faith effort to uncover any hazardous condition. Thus, it is vitally important that you avoid facility sites that may have been environmentally damaged by hazardous wastes.
Making sure that you won't be saddled with the expense of cleaning up someone
else's environmental mess is easier said than done. At a minimum, before you
sign a rental or sales contract for the property, you should ask your attorney
about the steps that he or she will take on your behalf to ensure that you won't
get hit with such a liability. One such step is to require the seller or
landlord to disclose in the contract whether there were prior uses that may have
had an environmental impact and any federal and state environmental notices or
investigations relating to the site. Your attorney can also advise you about
whether an environmental inspection of the site is advisable.