Your Tenant Has Illegal Drugs In Your Rental Property: What Should You Do?
Bad news: it’s been brought to your attention that one of your tenants is doing drugs on your property. Maybe it’s marijuana, maybe it’s cocaine, maybe it’s heroin. Your goal as a landlord is long-term tenancy and safety is a huge component of ensuring your tenants stick around...so what do you do?
Nexus Property Management® has been managing 100s of apartments for over a decade and we’ve received plenty of calls regarding tenants selling, using, and keeping drugs inside rental properties. If you own multi-family apartments it’s only a matter of time before you get a call or report about drugs...it’s just one of those things. The most common complaints will be about marijuana: “The hallway smells”; “I have asthma”; “My clothes smell like weed”, “My boss made a comment”... all of these are legitimate complaints and they need to be taken seriously. We also receive calls about harder drugs, and these obviously mandate action as well, but the approach will be a little different in those cases.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT NOT TO DO
With typical conflicts, we recommend that tenants try to work things out themselves. That is certainly not the advice when it comes to issues with drug use. Similarly, we do not recommend that property owners (or property managers) respond with a knock on the door. To put it very simply and perhaps a bit cliche, drugs = danger. If someone is breaking the law (through drug use) it is reasonable to believe that they may resort to violence when approached. Never inject yourself into an unpredictable situation. Your safety comes first and there are more effective avenues you can take.
MARIJUANA: LEGAL OPTION
As previously mentioned, marijuana is the most common drug we run into. Culturally, it is much more widespread and because it is commonly smoked, it is more detectable by neighbors and maintenance workers. About 40% of states recognize marijuna as legal, which can also complicate things...unless you’ve created a strong lease.
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The best way to handle marijuana issues is through legal means. When Nexus receives a marijuana related complaint, we immediately respond by sending a 20 Day Lease Violation Notice to the tenant. Per Rhode Island law (other states have similar statutes but period of time may vary), this document, sent via certified mail, stands as a legal step you the property owner can take to either remedy the situation or evict the tenant if the situation is not remedied. Most states require that you include the tenant’s name, description of noncompliance (lease violation), explanation that the tenant has 20 days to “remedy” the violation or they will be subject to eviction, and the date the notice will be sent, along with your name and signature.
IMPORTANT: When explaining the violation, use language from the lease rather than detailed implications:
- DO indicate that the tenant was smoking inside the apartment.
- DON’T indicate that the tenant was smoking weed inside the apartment.
One of those is much easier to prove and the same one is (should be!!!) tied to your lease. Smoking inside is a fire hazard. But if you include specifics it opens the door (don’t mind the rental pun) for deniability based on mischaracterization (i.e. “I was smoking something else”). The tenant should not be smoking inside, case closed...keep it simple. We’ve seen it get more complicated than it needs to due to this misstep. And once again, avoid injecting yourself more deeply into this than you need to. By taking this legal step you’ve done your part and any additional actions can now be handled by your attorney or other legal entities.
WHAT IF IT’S SOMETHING MORE SERIOUS?
If you’re dealing with something heavier (cocaine, heroin, etc.) the safest bet is to call the police. It is very unlikely that a letter or communication of that type would be opened, nevermind followed. All too often, these drugs of abuse and the potential for selling them put your building, your tenants, children, and pets at risk. Let the police investigate and figure out what’s going on. Do not interject yourself. As a property manager our task is to decrease risk for our clients...there is nothing riskier than trying to intervene in this scenario. Don’t waste any time...contact the police for the sake of all parties involved.
It’s great to be able to handle things yourself and all too often in today’s society we see people making bigger deals of things that shouldn’t get the attention that they do. Being able to deal with conflict efficiently often separates the most successful from the rest...but when it comes to issues with drugs, there are no best practices other than taking legal steps. This can be intimidating or uncomfortable and our team is happy to help if you find yourself in this or some other unpredictable situation [ What To Do When A Tenant Dies In Your Property ].
Contact Nexus if you have any questions, are interested in becoming part of our team, or are interested in becoming a client. With four locations in Southern New England, we are proud of our growth and our stellar reputation throughout the region. Find out why we’re Southern New England’s largest residential property manager.
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Mick Lefort is the Vice President of Operations for Nexus Property Management®. A National Property Management Franchise that manages all types of rental property from single family homes or condos to large apartment buildings and complexes.
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