Currently, the United States is experiencing a serious drug epidemic. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for landlords to learn that a tenant is engaging in illegal drug activity on the premises.
Illegal drug activity can endanger other persons, damage the reputation of the community and decrease property value. Landlords may be liable for injuries or harm caused by a tenant engaging in illegal activity if they fail to take appropriate legal action.
Warning Signs of Illegal Drug Activity
Don’t ignore the warning signs:
- Frequent Traffic – If a tenant has a lot of visitors at all hours of the day or night for short periods, they may be involved in illegal activity.
- High Utility Bills – When someone is manufacturing drugs or selling them, there may be an increase in utility costs.
- Occupants – If the tenant that signed the lease is rarely on the premises, it might be worth checking to find out if there is anything amiss.
- Unusual Odors – Producing drugs can cause pungent odors, such as the scent of chemicals (e.g., ammonia).
- Refuses Access/Reschedules Inspection – Tenants involved in illegal activity may refuse the landlord access to the premises and/or reschedule property inspections.
- Cash payments – Tenants involved in illegal activities are more likely to pay in cash to avoid placing money in a traceable bank account.
Review the Lease & Addendums
Lease agreements typically contain a clause or include an attached addendum that allows a landlord to evict a tenant for engaging in illicit drug activity on the premises.
Some states allow for an immediate termination of tenancy with no prior notice required. Whereas other states, like Colorado, have a short notice period, which gives the tenant a specific number of days to move out.
Maintain excellent records by keeping all evidence, complaints or statements from other tenants, police reports, inspections of the premises and photos in the tenant’s file. In order to evict a tenant, a landlord needs solid evidence of illegal drug activity to bring with them to court.
Forms of evidence include:
- Statements or complaints in writing from other tenants or neighbors.
- Schedule an inspection of the premises in order to document and collect photos and other evidence of drug activity, manufacture, or paraphernalia in the rental unit (e.g., syringes, baggies, fertilizer, rubber tubes, glass flasks, drain cleaner or cold/allergy medicine).
- Obtaining photo evidence of chemical containers, such as those involved in meth production.
- A formal police report, arrest or conviction for drug activity.
Without solid evidence, the landlord’s case can be difficult to prove, so documentation is crucial.
Speak with an Attorney
Discuss the terms of the lease, evidence gathered and whether or not the state has legalized or decriminalized drug use or possession to find out the next best steps.
It is important for landlords to know Fair Housing laws and the laws of the state. Also, landlords should be aware of the protections afforded to tenants that are considered disabled under the law due to alcoholism or a drug addiction if they are considered to be in recovery.
In addition, a landlord may incorporate a no smoking policy addendum to the lease. However, if the rental unit is located in a state that legalized medical marijuana and the tenant has marijuana prescribed by a physician, there are no grounds for an eviction if the tenant’s marijuana use is restricted to their rental unit.
As the laws change in each state, landlords should update their lease to contain a clause or addendum that covers an enforceable illegal drug policy.
Contact Law Enforcement
Discuss the tenant’s conduct, including any complaints or statements from other tenants. If the landlord is new to the premises, ask police or the narcotics division if there is any history with the tenant residing in the rental unit or prior police reports.
Landlords may also ask local police to patrol the area and keep an eye on the premises.
Evict the Tenant
If the landlord has solid evidence to support their eviction action in court, it is time to move forward with the case.
Some states require the landlord to first serve an eviction notice to the tenant, while other states do not require a prior notice to tenants for committing illegal activity. If no prior notice is required, the landlord can go directly to the courthouse to begin eviction proceedings immediately.
Drug-related evictions are typically quicker than other eviction actions. So, if the landlord can demonstrate that a tenant is engaging in illegal drug activity, the judge will issue a judgment in the landlord’s favor.
Consequences for Failure to Take Legal Action
Landlords may be subject to fines, civil suits, or criminal penalties for allowing illegal drug activity on premises and failing to take the appropriate legal action.
The landlord jeopardizes the safety and security of other tenants, neighbors, and property staff by not addressing unlawful behavior.
In some states, law enforcement may confiscate the rental unit if the premises are used to sell drugs or operate a drug lab.
Tips for Preventing Drug Activity
Tips for preventing illegal drug activity on the premises:
- Screen prospective tenants carefully and conduct a thorough background check.
- Discuss the strict, no tolerance policy for illegal drug activity on the premises with all tenants.
- Strongly encourage tenants to report any suspicious activity immediately.
- Request regular courtesy checks and patrols by police.
- Install security cameras, including some that are hidden.
- Install security lighting throughout the property and regularly inspect the premises at night to ensure all lights are functional.
- Keep an eye out for individuals loitering around the rental unit.
- Inspect all rental units regularly.
Landlords must do their due diligence to prevent illegal drug activity. Knowing the warning signs, enforcing policy, inspecting all rental units and taking immediate legal action are crucial to maintaining a safe and drug free community.