In January 2016, an event known as the “Flint water crisis,” pertaining to lead contamination in the city’s water supply and a resulting emergency in the area, emerged as a major news story. The unfolding event led to a number of rumors, including one that Child Protective Services (CPS) was threatening to take children from affected homes (which was false), and another that maintained it was illegal for Flint homeowners to sell their properties in the city due to the crisis.
The Child Protective Services rumor originates with a publication called The Free Thought Project, which also published an article holding that:
Despite the fact that the issue is obviously the government’s responsibility, they have made it illegal for people to sell their homes because of the fact that they are known to carry contaminated water. Meanwhile, residents are still left to purchase bottled water on their own, in addition to paying their water bill.
As with the CPS story, the portion claiming that the government had made it illegal to sell homes in Flint stemmed from a single, unvetted source, in this case a Flint resident’s comment captured in a Russia Today video clip. At approximately the 1:06 mark of the clip, the resident states that “it’s illegal to sell your home with a known copper and lead problem,” a statement widely interpreted both in media reports and on social media sites to mean that all home sales in Flint were consequently illegal:
And why don’t we move? Well, it is illegal to sell your home with a known copper and lead problem. And who would buy my poison water house anyway? We have no options.
In an attempt to clarify the claim, we contacted relevant state agencies in Michigan as well as several local real estate businesses.
Representatives from both Coldwell Banker and Century 21 in Flint stated they were aware of no such regulation or legal restriction on selling homes, and that property sales in Flint have not been affected by any restriction on real estate transactions. We asked whether it was expressly illegal to sell a home in which pipes required replacement, and both representatives said that the scenario would be covered in disclosures related to the transaction. (Problems relating to the home would fall under the auspices of the seller’s disclosure, whereas local infrastructure matters would be disclosed by the listing broker.)
On Reddit, an individual poster represented as a Flint resident expressed frustration and skepticism with both rumors, citing his own experiences and observing that the speculation failed to take into account that the situation on the ground in Flint is an emergency:
This article is complete bullshit. The city announced last week that NO ONE is getting shut-off and that they actually reconnected anyone that had been shut off since October.
Source — what I was told at Flint city hall last week when I went to pay my water bill. I replied “about fucking time” and left without paying. My service is still on.
I’d like to see one single source from that article other than that the writer apparently scanned through some news articles before writing this.
WHO SAID IT’S ILLEGAL TO SELL YOUR HOME IN FLINT? WHO SAID THEY ARE REMOVING CHILDREN FROM HOMES?
If the author is assuming normal state laws apply to Flint, they are an idiot as we are in an OFFICIAL EMERGENCY.
I am a Flint resident and this whole article is complete and utter bullshit. I mean, it says we’re still paying for bottled water. They’ve been giving it away for free, even dropping it off at people’s houses, since last weekend.
Aside from statements made by one person in two interviews, we were unable to track down any information that substantiated the claim it is expressly illegal to sell homes in Flint due to the water crisis. Mays’ assertion that buyers might be less keen on purchasing a home in Flint until the crisis was resolved were plausible, but it doesn’t appear that any legal restrictions prevent residents of that town from selling their homes.
On 29 January 2015, a representative from MDHHS’s Joint Information Center responded to our inquiry:
The rumor that it is illegal to sell homes in Flint is entirely false. Under the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency, there are lead-based paint disclosure requirements. But when it comes to lead in water for homes in Flint, while there are no similar requirements, we do recommend that individuals looking to buy or sell homes in Flint consider having their water tested. Water testing continues to be available through the City of Flint, or Flint Water Plant by calling 810-648-6942.