Updated February 2022
When assessing the risks to your rental property, have you ever considered the risk of meth labs? Landlords know meth labs are dangerous, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily know how directly those labs could affect their business.
Landlords everywhere need to understand the importance of educating themselves on meth labs and rental properties, especially the physical dangers and the immense financial impact.
Many cities across the country are seeing a rise in the production of methamphetamine or meth. Meth is an addictive drug that can be created or “cooked” in makeshift laboratories, which can be set up temporarily and moved quickly.
Meth is relatively inexpensive and easy to make, so it is appealing to those looking to make some fast money. Meth labs have been discovered in just about any city, large or small.
If you think your city is an exception, you are probably wrong.
As a landlord, you need to become educated on the impact of meth labs on rentals.
Table Of Contents: Meth Labs In Apartments
Landlords know meth labs can be created nearly anywhere, but they may not consider that this means a lab could be created in one of their own apartments or rental units. It’s essential to be aware of the warning signs of such an operation in order to protect your property. Get started on educating yourself today.
- Why Landlords Should Know Meth Lab Risks And Warning Signs
- 5 Signs Of A Meth Lab In Apartments
- What To Do If You Suspect A Meth Lab In An Apartment Building
- Preventing Meth Labs In Rental Properties
- FAQs On Meth Labs In Apartments
- Landlords: Hidden Victims Of Meth Labs
Why exactly are meth lab sites a dangerous risk for landlords, and why should you be learning more about how to identify early warning signs of this type of operation?
Landlords who do not have direct experience with meth labs may not realize just how dangerous and expensive it can be to recover a rental unit after it has been used as a place to create meth. Many landlords find it takes them years to recoup the repair costs associated with reclaiming a contaminated unit.
So, what is it about these labs that are so dangerous? It’s important to figure out what exactly you’re getting into.
Of course, the most commonly known risk of meth labs is the simple fact that a dangerous, addictive drug is being produced and given to the community. This can create many long-term problems for people who become addicted and for the community at large.
Beyond the community impact of meth, however, it is also very dangerous to be living in an environment where meth is being cooked. This is because meth is created from a wide range of chemicals being mixed in ways they should not be used, which contaminates the immediate area.
Simply being in or near a room where meth is being cooked can cause the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
In severe cases, long-term exposure to unventilated, contaminated areas could even lead to death.
Beyond the health risks, it is also possible for apartments with meth labs to blow up or catch fire due to the mixing of dangerous chemicals that should not be combined. It is not uncommon for this to be the reason for discovery, but that discovery is often too little, too late. By the time an explosion has occurred, the property and neighbors may have already experienced the damaging consequences of the meth lab.
As we have just learned, the presence of a meth lab in an apartment unit, rental property, or on another part of your rental property can be very dangerous, not only for the property but also for those living nearby.
While the actions of someone who makes meth are not your personal responsibility, you have an opportunity as a landlord to keep an eye out for warning signs.
By learning about some easy-to-spot warning signs of meth lab sites, you can play a huge role in preventing a catastrophe from happening in one of your properties. Not only will you be able to keep your business safe, but you can also play a role in ensuring the safety of the community at large by keeping an eye out for meth lab warning signs.
Keep reading to learn more about these warning signs and what to do if you suspect that a meth lab might be operated in or near one of your rentals.
Now that you know more about why meth labs are dangerous, it’s time to learn more about the warning signs of meth labs. While it won’t always be possible to discover a nefarious operation happening in one of your rentals, there are often warning signs of operating such a lab.
However, if you don’t know anything about meth lab warning signs, it will not be possible. Here are five common ways to identify that something strange might be happening inside a rental unit. If you suspect anything due to these warning signs, contact your local police immediately.
One of the first clues that you might see when inspecting a property that should give you pause is dead grass. Dead grass is common around meth operations, as some people will dump used waste chemicals directly onto the ground outside their building.
This kills the grass in the area, which can also lead to more significant problems like water contamination in the area. If you notice large patches of dead grass with no other obvious explanation, keep an eye out for additional warning signs as you determine what to do.
Another outdoor or garage warning sign that you may notice while doing inspections is stained soil or concrete. Spilled or dumped chemicals can also cause permanent staining of these things, so that is another way to identify that something risky might be happening in the property.
Some of the clues of a meth lab that a landlord may notice while inspecting a property include empty containers and boxes from chemicals.
Large quantities of over-the-counter medications like decongestants, stimulants, or asthma medication are also a sign that something could be cooking at the property. Paint thinner, lye, Freon, acetone, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid, and ammonia are generally present at meth operations.
The presence of these substances, or an excessive amount of trash that contains these substances, is a sure sign that something illegal is happening at the property. Contact authorities immediately if this is the reason that you suspect a meth lab might be operating in your rental unit.
While many of the items used to cook meth are common household items, large quantities of these things, or all of these items being present in one area, can be a significant warning sign of meth lab operations.
Meth lab equipment might include rubber hosing, duct tape, bottles, and other glass containers, pressurized cylinders, camp stove fuel canisters, propane tanks, and respiratory masks. Additionally, you may see starter fluid, stained coffee filters, lithium batteries, and rock salt at the property.
All of these items can be used to cook meth. The process is very dangerous, so you should take the alarming presence of these materials very seriously as well.
If a tenant is cooking meth in a rental property with nearby neighbors, there is a good chance they will notice something is awry. Even if the neighbors aren’t your tenants, they may contact you about concerns if they notice strange happenings around the rental. It’s good to leave your property neighbors with your name and number in case of these types of developments.
Residents or neighbors may notice strong chemical odors in the area or complain about certain health conditions, like skin irritations, headaches, and respiratory problems.
It’s not uncommon for neighbors to notice the following signs or types of activity when a meth lab site is being operated:
- Strong smell of solvents or chemicals near the building
- Windows blacked out
- Lots of nighttime activity
- Excessive amounts of trash
If a neighbor contacts you about this type of concern, you will want to contact authorities so they can do the investigating. Additionally, it might be a good idea to suggest that the neighbor also contact the authorities directly so they can give their first-hand account of any witnessed activity.
As mentioned, neighbors may notice increased nighttime activities at the rental property as well. This is because the tenants operating the meth lab will want to be as secretive as possible so that no one is alerted to their nefarious activity.
Additionally, landlords may notice a new security system installed without permission, covered windows, and an above-average amount of trash. All of these attempts to disguise what is happening at the property are likely warning signs, and you should take them seriously.
If a landlord notices an excessive amount of any of these items, they should not disturb anything and should notify the police immediately. Do not try to confront your tenant directly or ask them any questions about these warning signs. Not only could they respond violently, but the unit is also likely contaminated. Even limited exposure could cause health problems.
Meth labs are guaranteed to be sites with hazardous waste and should only be entered by professionals who are trained to deal with them. Once on site, professionals will start a certified clean-up process to ensure that the hazardous materials used are completely removed and no longer pose a health risk to anyone living in or near the property.
Never enter a site that you believe has been used for cooking meth. Exposure is very dangerous, and you also do not want to risk interfering with the investigation of such a site.
Instead, contact local law enforcement with your concerns immediately. They will handle sending in a decontamination team before investigating the operation to determine what is happening at the property.
Investigating personnel will not enter the property until they are wearing protective gear due to the risk level, and you should not either.
Frustrating as it may be, this could mean that you cannot enter your property for weeks, or even months, depending on the severity of the case. Once the unit is thoroughly cleaned, you will be able to move forward with handling repairs and deciding what to do next.
Cleaning up after a meth lab focuses on primary areas of contamination and secondary areas. Primary areas of contamination include the cooking area, where everything from walls, floors, ceilings, and any furniture may be affected.
Disposal areas, like sinks, toilets, septic tanks, fans, vents, and storm and sewer systems, are also considered primary areas of contamination.
Any storage areas that may have held chemicals before or after cooking must also be cleaned properly. Secondary areas of contamination would include other rooms near the lab, hallways, and common areas where contamination may have occurred.
A properly equipped and trained hazardous materials company must do the cleanup of a meth lab.
They will secure the site for the police investigation, and when given permission by law enforcement, they’ll remove the chemicals and equipment carefully and secure the site from trespassers.
Then the real cleanup begins.
Here are the general steps to properly clean up a meth lab that the professionals will follow:
- Air Out Property—Some chemicals will lose potency when the area is allowed to properly air out. This also reduces some odors.
- Rip Out and Remove—Any contaminated material will be removed, which often results in small demolition projects. Anything absorbent, like curtains, carpet, furniture, wallpaper, and more, must be removed. Contaminated objects like sinks, tubs, toilets, and pipes must also be removed.
- Washing—Cleanup crews will perform a chemical washing of nonporous and semi-porous areas like tile, walls, ceilings, countertops, and more. In extreme cases, these things must be replaced.
- Clean Vents—The ventilation system will be cleaned and all air filters replaced. Ductwork and surfaces will be thoroughly washed out as well.
- Clean Plumbing Systems—The cleanup crew will flush the plumbing system with a chemical cleaner to take care of any contamination in the system. In extreme cases, the plumbing system must be replaced.
There are other steps that a cleanup crew may take depending on the location, severity, and contamination levels from the meth lab.
Once the cleanup is done, the crew must perform tests to ensure the unit is safe for future tenants. All states have set standards for testing that ensure the health and safety of any future occupants.
If the property fails the test, then more work is needed. If the property passes the health and safety test, the property owner will receive documentation stating that it is fit for occupancy.
Renting a property out again once it has been certifiably cleaned up can also be a challenge for some landlords. Many states require landlords to disclose whether or not a rental property has been the site of previous methamphetamine contamination.
Here are the states that require disclosure of contamination to rental property applicants:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Find out more on state-by-state contamination disclosures here.
Some of these states, such as Nebraska, don’t require a landlord to provide disclosure if the property has been cleaned and meets all the requirements for re-occupancy.
Landlords should check their state laws on disclosure to be sure of what to do. Even if your state requires disclosures, the specifics that need to be disclosed can vary. It is also best to be as honest as possible with potential tenants about what has happened at the property. They’re likely to find out from neighbors anyway, so you should be straightforward when providing this important information.
If real estate investors are looking to purchase property in these states, they should definitely make sure they have the information about any prior contamination before making a purchase.
By checking with the local police department and conducting tests for any contamination, buyers can feel confident that the property they purchase is clean.
With the significant financial impact of discovering a meth lab in their rental property, many landlords are desperate to figure out ways to prevent tenants from ever considering it.
There are three things landlords can do to minimize the likelihood of residents bringing in a meth lab.
It’s easiest to set up meth labs in rental properties where the landlord often doesn’t engage with the property. If their state allows it, landlords should include regular inspections in the lease agreement and make the tenant aware that they will be on hand to do repairs and other routine maintenance as needed.
Landlords who don’t get involved in their property make it easy for meth labs to thrive. Tenants are less likely to participate in illegal activities in a rental property if they think they can be discovered at any time.
If you are outsourcing your property management to a property management company, make sure they are actively involved in the rentals in your stead to reduce risk.
Landlords who go to the property for repairs or maintenance should pay attention to any suspicious activity. Landlords can also get to know the neighbors and leave a business card, asking them to call if anything suspicious happens at the rental property.
Having lots of eyes and ears on the property can discourage tenants who may consider setting up a meth lab there.
Checking out a tenant’s past history is one of the best ways to see what they will probably be like in a new place. Good tenant screening means calling previous landlords and verifying that the prospective tenants are legitimate, checking employment references, verifying income, and looking at criminal history. While a clean background check doesn’t guarantee anything, it reduces the odds of a bad rental experience significantly.
If you aren’t sure how to improve your tenant screening, it might be time to work with a high-quality tenant screening service like RentPrep. We help landlords set up their screening process with the right tools, to be affordable, efficient, and most importantly, effective.
As a landlord, you should never disrupt someone’s privacy to try to discover if they are creating drugs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look out for warning signs. Meth labs and other drug operations present a big risk to your property and nearby neighbors, so being aware of the warning signs is key.
These are the primary things to look out for when you are concerned that someone may be running a meth lab in one of your rentals:
- Stained soil, grass, or concrete outside the building
- Excessive amounts of trash, including chemical boxes
- Presence of large amounts of over-the-counter medications and chemicals
- Blacked out windows and unauthorized security system
- Complaints from neighbors about strange smells or excessive nighttime activities
To learn more about each of these warning signs, revisit the earlier parts of today’s guide. We’ve written up more detailed descriptions that will help you feel secure that you know how to identify these telling factors.
Even if you suspect that one of your tenants might be running a meth lab in the property, you cannot simply barge in and check things out. You could be wrong, and that would be an invasion of privacy that violates landlord-tenant law in the state.
You could schedule an inspection of the property according to the usual methods outlined in your lease. However, that’s probably not going to be a great option. It’s unlikely that the tenant will agree to this type of inspection, and it could be very dangerous to enter the property.
Other landlords might think they could start drug testing at rental properties, but this is also not allowed. Plus, not all who operate meth labs are drug users, so there isn’t a real point to this type of action anyway.
The only clues you can look for are those you’d see when you are at the property doing repairs or those visible from outside of the rental unit. If you have serious concerns, your best option is to contact local law enforcement to find out how to proceed.
The bottom line is that you should not do any of the cleaning yourself. Meth labs are incredibly dangerous, and they should be considered hazardous wastelands.
If an apartment that you own was used as a meth lab, law enforcement personnel would have a professional cleaning team come in to disinfect the property. Once the property is cleared of contamination, you can begin repairs in order to re-rent the property.
However, you should not do any of the cleaning yourself. If the unit hasn’t been cleared for occupation, call a professional team before attempting to clean the property. They can make sure the contamination is gone before anyone enters the property unprotected.
The production and distribution of illegal drugs affect so many people in this country, and landlords are just some of the victims involved. It’s not hard to see how huge the impact on landlords can be when a meth lab is created at one of their properties.
Landlords suffer financially from the huge bills from cleanup and repair, legal fees to evict tenants, possible costs to relocate other tenants, insurance issues, and even the difficulty of re-renting or even selling a previously contaminated property.
Meth labs in rentals are a growing problem and one that can ruin a property owner’s business and harm innocent people in the process.
What are some of the things you do as a landlord to ensure your property doesn’t turn into a meth lab? Please share this article and let us know your preventative methods in the comments section below.