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

19 Comments

  1. Proper Tenant Screening is the key. Odds are, the tenant has a low credit score, and could be rejected on that. Too often, the bad guys use a girl to get a lease, and move in. Most people that hang around with meth heads won’t pass a credit check either.
    Require at lease a 600 score, even higher is better.

    • Its clear that there is a meth epidemic in this country, just ask one of our Screeners that see these charges on a daily basis. And I agree with @nononsenselandlord that meth seems to destroy all aspects of their life, including credit.

    • I have a serious problem with rejecting a tenant based on a credit score. A serious medical problem or unemployment can result in huge debt, and a bad score for years to come. I was forced to declare bankruptcy after my business failed and a single creditor refused to negotiate to get paid in full over time and sued me. My credit score was below 600 for years, in spite of a good job.

      • Clayton, you’re not the only landlord that feels this way. I’d say just based on our landlord clients only about 50% put any importance on credit score. Certainly there are situations when credit score does reflect their ability to pay the rent or take responsibilities seriously, but there’s plenty of situations like the one you were in where you were financially stable with a low credit score.
        I think this stresses the importance of a solid screening policy. By putting a value on different items allows for you to overlook some things if they’re stronger in other areas. Like in your case, the bankruptcy might raise a flag and deduct some points, but your income would offset that and reduce the landlords risk.
        Certainly no two tenants or their situations in life are alike, and for that reason as landlords we must create parameters of what’s allowable and what’s not, and what risks can be offset by stronger qualities. Some things may hold really high value, like evictions or violent crimes, while older bankruptcies and lower credit scores can be less of a risk with a higher security deposit or strong qualities like stable employment and great previous rental history.

    • Not everyone who is low income uses or makes drugs. If they have a history of owning a home or their previous landlords vouch for them and they made all their payments on time and have no criminal record, they should be safe. And if the landlord says they took care of the property, gave notice, and left the place in good shape, you can probably be safe renting to a low income family. Everyone has to live somewhere and it is terribly unfair to lump all poor people in one group.

  2. We discovered that our renters were using heroin. They took out one of the oven racks. They stuck cotton up in the bathroom exhaust fan. We have a leak under our house. We think they might have used meth too. Can anyone confirm these items as being related to drugs? The cotton is the weirdest one. Thank you.

    • Nick, I think the cotton makes the most sense for trying to create a filter to cover smells. It could be anything from cigarettes to a meth lab, the only way to find out is to get into the unit to inspect things. Be sure to give proper notice of entry and consider bringing someone along that might be able to help. Like a street smart friend or fireman who might be able to recognize some warning signs.

  3. My son and his family lived in a rental house for a year. The owner of the home decided to list the home for sale so my son moved. The real estate agent who had a sale pending for the home contacted my son about 60 days from when he moved and said the buyers had the home tested and it came back positive for meth. The owner of the home knew the former renter was arrested for selling drugs. My son’s family had so many medical problems while living in the home, 2 yr. old had a seizure that lasted 25 minutes, ambulance ride to hospital, medical test after test came back inconclusive. Wife/mother had severe headaches and spinal tape done. Is the owner of the home responsible for not informing renters of drug operation in home? When he knew the renter was arrested for distribution was he not legally responsible to test the home?

    • This sounds like a terrible situation. I’m not sure if the landlord would be responsible for damages or not, but I know that there is no law that states a landlord has to have the unit tested unless there was reason to. In other words, if the previous tenant was arrested for selling drugs and the authorities found a meth lab on the property, then he would be responsible for having it tested. In fact, at that point the municipality typically steps in to ensure the property clears inspections after a cleanup.
      But if the drug charges were unrelated, or off premises, the landlord may not have ever been aware of a meth lab in the property. Each state has different laws regarding this so I would check with your local laws to see what the laws are.
      Just to give you a different perspective on this topic – typically it’s the landlord that suffers after a meth lab has been found on their property. They are responsible for clean up and passing subsequent inspections out of their pocket. If the the property tested positive after your family was living there, that would tell me that it was not tested prior. Otherwise the landlord would not have been able to rent it out.

  4. This is an incredibly useful post on something that is so infrequently talked about. It’s good to keep in mind what absolutely needs to be done in a “worst-case-scenario” like this, so thank you so much for your insight here.

  5. My landlord lied about the drug use in my rental home and my son has been in the hospital 3 times where he almost stopped breathing. I just found out from a neighbor that the meth was covered up and pushed under the rug. The chief of police lied for the guy and now I have no one to really trust or talk to about the issue.

  6. As a resident in IL I must inform you that you have misinformation regarding disclosure laws for Landlords of meth homes. The disclosure law is for owners selling to buyers only. All renters in IL are not protected from such disclosure laws and in most cases can rent a home without proper cleanup following a meth lab bust. Don’t forget also that many homes may never be busted for meth making and therefore go undetected by law enforcement and therefore most likely by both buyers and renters. I am deeply saddened by our state government who saw fit to try and protect the buyers with a disclosure law but found the renters were not as worthy. Very easy to draw conclusions here. For your health and safety, don’t rent in IL!

  7. I live in Montana and recently learned that the apartment across the hall from me is “hot”, 30 times higher then legal allowance. The resident did not manufacture the meth, they smoked it and burned incense all day. No one knew what was happening, the police, cps and public defender’s office told the land lady and the rest of residents…in fourplex…that she was only smoking cigarettes and was smoking those outside. Is landlady responsible for clean up even though there was no manufacturing, only smoking? Can it be claimed under smoke clean up”

  8. The landlord is ultimately responsible for the clean up. Although most will try to get the tenant to cover the costs, that will likely not happen if the person has been evicted. So at the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of the landlord to ensure the unit is inhabitable.
    If you are still concerned, I would recommend having your apartment tested and share the results with the landlord.

  9. Dryer sheets inside an empty paper towel or toilet paper roll makes what is known as a “puffer” to mask the smell of smoke. I’ve seen this in schools I’ve worked at in the past. The kids would smoke in the bathrooms and the puffer would do a pretty good job covering the smells.

  10. A good landlord will check on his or her property on a consistent basis and conduct a thorough criminal check of potential tenants. Any landlord who just takes people’s rents, complains about common repairs that need to be done, and lets the property go to hell is a slumlord. The reason that security deposits are given is so landlords can do repairs if need be. I know in some states, a landlord must put the security deposit in a bank account. It is not the landlord’s money and people who kept an apartment in good condition get their security deposit back. They should not have to wait 6 months.
    I agree with the article that Meth labs can be easily set up when the Landlord is absent and never checks on the property. If a landlord cannot do consistent check-ups, then getting a third party apartment manager is needed. If a slumlord has to pay for Meth Lab clean-up, that is just their karma for not being a decent landlord. While I feel bad for tenants exposed to toxins and drugs, I do not have much sympathy for crappy landlords who are greedy and want their rent money, but do not live up to their other duties as a landlord: keeping apartments safe for other tenants, making necessary repairs, doing maintenance work, and ensuring tenants’ safety. To all the tightwad, irresponsible landlords out there, you must shell out some money on your properties to keep them safe, healthy, and up to certain standards and codes. That is your responsibility as a landlord.

    • You are absolutely correct Debbie. I always say landlords create their own problems, and not performing background checks and routine inspections is a perfect example of this.

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