As a landlord, you have certain legal obligations to your tenants and the neighborhood where your rental resides. One of those obligations is to ensure the people you rent to are not engaging in criminal acts, such as use or distribution of illegal drugs, that threaten the safety and well-being of those around them. Not only can you face fines and legal penalties for allowing such activities, your property could be confiscated by the government. To help you catch issues before they become problems, here are a few ways to determine if your tenants are involved in drug production or distribution.
Perform Regular Inspections
While your tenants have the right to privacy, you also have the right to ensure the people are taking care of your property as agreed. Most states have laws that let you regularly inspect the premises as long as you provide the tenants with proper notice. This varies slightly from state to state, but in general you must notify the tenant that you plan to inspect the residency at least 24 to 48 hours beforehand. The inspection must also occur at a reasonable time, such as during business hours (between 8 am and 7 pm).
When inspecting the home, look for signs of drug production or distribution such as:
- Drug paraphernalia such as bongs, burned spoons, and used needles
- Odd smells such as marijuana or chemical odors
- Burn marks, burn pits, or dead spots in the yard
- Linen, coffee filters, clothing and other items stained red; this is from the phosphorus produced from making methamphetamines
- The home, children, and/or pets appear neglected
- Blackened windows or curtains that are never open
- Holes in walls, damage to home that indicates physical altercations
- The ventilation system was altered in a strange way
In addition to helping you stay abreast of what's happening on your rental property, regular inspections can deter criminal activity. If the tenants know you regularly inspect the home, they will be less likely to do something that would get them evicted or arrested.
Do Random Drive-Bys
While you must give the tenant notice that you're dropping by to inspect the rental unit (thus giving them time to hide illegal activity), you don't have to give such notice to drive by the home or walk around the apartment building. Doing so unexpectedly on nights and weekends when the tenants are more likely to be home can give you a better idea of the activity that may be occurring at the residency. For example, if there appears to be a lot of traffic going in and out of the house or apartment each time you drive or walk by, something may be going on.
Regularly Review Utility Bills
If you pay the utilities on the home, be certain to regularly review them. Sudden spikes in energy or water usage may signal drug activity. For instance, growing marijuana uses a lot of electricity. Depending on the size of the farm, the energy bill could get as high as $10,000 per month. If the utility bill suddenly and inexplicably increases beyond what's normal, you may want to discuss the issue with your tenants.
Set Search Engine Alerts
Quite a few Internet search engines have a feature that lets you be notified when certain search terms show up in articles that appear online. Set up an alert for the address of your unit as well as the cross streets. This way, you'll be notified whenever newspapers, bloggers, and other online writers post something that occurs in the area. For instance, crime journalists upload articles about drug busts and other criminal activity usually within hours to a few days after the incidents occur. If someone in your home is arrested for drug activity, you won't have to ask your tenant about it. You'll already know.
If you suspect your tenants may be involved in drug activity, it's important to discuss the issue with the police and an attorney prior to doing anything about it. You'll need a certain amount of proof before you can evict the people and/or have them arrested, and a law enforcement office or lawyer can advise you on how best to proceed.
For more tips on preventing criminal activity in your rental unit or to have a professional company help you screen and monitor tenants, connect with a property management company in your area.