What Landlords Need to Know About Meth Labs

Landlords everywhere need to understand the importance of educating themselves on meth labs and rental properties, especially on 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; these can be set up temporarily and moved easily.
Meth is relatively inexpensive and easy to make, so it is a common activity for 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 in rental properties.

Signs of a meth lab in apartment

Some of the clues of a meth lab that a landlord may notice while inspecting a property include empty containers and boxes from chemicals. Other clues include stained soil or concrete, as well as dead grass from chemicals being dumped.
Large quantities of over the counter medications like decongestants, stimulants or asthma medication. Paint thinner, lye, Freon, acetone, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid and ammonia are generally present.
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.
Other residents or neighbors may notice strong chemical odors in the area or complain about certain health conditions, like skin irritations, headaches and respiratory problems.
Neighbors may notice increased night activities at the rental property as well.
Landlords may notice a new security system installed without permission, covered windows and an above average amount of trash.
If a landlord notices an excessive amount of any of these items, they should not disturb anything and should notify the police immediately.
Meth labs are essentially sites for hazardous waste and should only be entered by professionals who are trained to deal with them.

Certified Cleanup Process

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 also need 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 material 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:

  1. Air Out Property—Some chemicals will lose some potency when the area is allowed to properly air out. This also reduces some odors.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 need to be replaced.
  4. Clean Vents—The ventilation system will be cleaned and all air filters replaced. Ductwork and surfaces will be thoroughly washed out as well.
  5. 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 that 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.

Landlord Responsibilities for Disclosure

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:
• Arizona
• California
• Hawaii
• Illinois
• Kentucky
• Minnesota
• Missouri
• Montana
• Nebraska
• New Hampshire
• New Mexico
• Oklahoma
• Oregon
• South Dakota
• Utah
• Washington
• West Virginia
• Wyoming
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.
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.

Preventing Meth Labs in Rental Properties

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.

  1. Conduct Good Tenant Screening. Checking out a tenant’s past history is one of the best ways to see what they will be like in a new place. Good tenant screening means calling previous landlords and verifying that they 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 significantly.
  2. Stay Involved. It’s easiest to set up meth labs in rental properties where the landlord doesn’t engage with the property often. Landlords should include regular inspections in the lease agreement if their state allows it, and make the tenant aware that they will be on hand to do repairs and other regular maintenance as needed. Landlords that 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.
  3. Be Observant. Landlords who get 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 is going on at the rental property. Having lots of eyes and ears on the rental property can discourage tenants who may consider setting up a meth lab there.

Landlords Are Victims, Too

The production and distribution of illegal drugs affect so many people in this country, and landlords are just some of the victims.
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 the difficulty of re-renting or even selling a previously contaminated property.
Meth labs in rental properties 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 in to a meth lab? Please share this article and let us know your preventative methods in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Tennessee Alliance for Drug Endangered Children