Rental Property Turned Meth Lab: Identify and Prevent

| April 2, 2014 More

How do I identify and prevent my rental property from becoming a Breaking Bad nightmare?

Breaking Bad, the hit television series based Albuquerque, New Mexico, is in its final season.[1]?While many of us are sad to see this show end, I for one am grateful that my everyday life is not a Breaking Bad world of meth labs and drug dealers.

How do I identify and prevent my rental property from becoming a Breaking Bad nightmare.

However, I am trying to not be naive. Meth labs are often set up in rental homes, so landlords and property managers are at risk of having their rental properties turned into methamphetamine production facilities. This is a big deal because the chemicals that are used to make meth are highly flammable and explosive. And meth residue is extremely toxic and considered hazardous waste. Once it is discovered, the property owner is responsible for cleanup, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and most insurance policies will not cover it. In addition, meth residue can permeate an entire building, which means remediating all affected units, losing rental income, and relocating residents.

Given the physical dangers and financial consequences of renters setting up meth labs in your rental home, I thought some meth guidance might be in order:

1) Identify:
What are signs my rental property is becoming a meth lab?

Certain ingredients are necessary to make meth. If you watch Breaking Bad, you might recognize some of them. When you see the list, you understand why it is ?so toxic and why it is good to spot these toxic residues:

  • Large amounts of cold, diet, or allergy pill boxes (over-the-counter ephedrine or pseudoephedrine)
  • Sheets or filters that are stained red or have a white, powdery residue.
  • Empty containers of anti-freeze, white gas, ether, or starting fluids.
  • Drain openers, freon, lye, paint thinner, acetone, or alcohol.
  • Ammonia or propane tanks, anhydrous ammonia (in coolers).
  • Camp stove fuel containers or other compressed gas cylinder.
  • Jars or bottles with rubber tubing attached.

To make one pound of methamphetamine, six pounds of hazardous, toxic waste is produced. Besides ending up in the walls, floors, HVAC system, carpet and other places, some of the waste is often dumped on the ground, so also look outside for dead grass or plants, and stained soil.

2) Prevent:
How can I prevent my rental from becoming a meth lab?

Screening your tenants is and critical. People who cook meth tend to end up in rentals that are self-managed and do not have a standardized tenant screening procedure. So make sure to:

  1. Have a solid tenant screening system in place, or hire a property management company?that does.
  2. Call previous landlords to confirm that your applicant was a good tenant in the past (make sure the phone number you have is to the actual landlord, and not someone pretending).
  3. Check employment references, and verify income. Follow up if your tenant pays for rent in cash.
  4. Include in your lease agreement that there will be regular inspections (with the proper 24- or 48-hour notice, as required by state law. Regular inspections may deter someone who is engaged in illegal activities.
  5. Let the neighbors know you are the property owner, and that if they notice anything suspicious you’d appreciate a phone call to either yourself or your property manager.

3) Disclosure:
Should I let new tenants know that the unit was previously contaminated?

The answer depends on which state you live in. Scripps Howard news service examined state meth disclosure laws in 2012 and found that seventeen states require property owners to tell renters about prior meth contamination, although several of those states waive that requirement if the meth residue has been officially cleaned up.

One more warning for rental property owners: if you are planning on expanding your rental property inventory, make sure you are confident that any properties you purchase were not used as meth labs in the past, because as soon as you own it, you become liable for the cleanup. During due diligence, if you have any suspicions, consider checking with the local police department, and have the property tested during the inspection. If you find suspicious residue, you can even test it yourself with a ten-pack meth residue test kit from Amazon.com for about $30. If you get a positive result, that $30 would be money well spent.

Have you had any Breaking Bad experiences with your rental property?

Are you looking for a local property manager expert?

As always, the information provided here is just that–it is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have any particular questions or issues, please consult an attorney.

By Tracey March


[1] For those who don’t follow it, Breaking Bad is about a high school science teacher (played by Brian Cranston) turned methamphetamine cooker and dealer to provide additional income for his growing family when his cancer treatments start eating up his savings.

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Category: Insurance, Investment Property, Landlord/Tenant Law, Property Management, Real Estate Law, Real Estate Market, Tenant Screening, Tenants

Comments (19)

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  1. T Hess says:

    Good info to have. Our property management company only inspects once a year – doesn’t seem like that’s often enough!!

  2. Magy says:

    I enjoyed reading and learning. What about tenant that is smoking marijuana and trough the heater the smoke is going to the down stair tenant in a condominium? What can we do about that? Thank you

    MAGY

  3. Edie Salmony says:

    Great article.

  4. Carol Becher says:

    Thanks so much for the tip – never gave such a possibility a thought! Since you guys do the periodic checks, I am sure you will do them with your eyes open. (i remember when we didn’t have such worries). Keep up the good work, we do appreciate your efforts to protect our interests. Carol B.

  5. Ron Doty says:

    Interesting article. Was not aware of all the work to do a clean-up. My managers do quarterly walk-thrus both in Atlanta and Orlando so I hope I am as prepared as I am able to be.

  6. David Daniel says:

    - I can’t figure out how Marijuana smoke could go through vents to another units, how would they be connected?? Vents come from the vent outward, but don’t connect with each other??
    - Lots of states have outlawed inside inspections all together (like California). How would you like someone coming into your house and nosing around monthly, or quarterly. Sure fire way to lose tenants.
    - We did discover a drug lab (not sure if it was Meth or not). Our Eviction Attorney advised us of how difficult it was to evict someone for this. First you have to give them a notice to quit doing something against the lease. Then you have to prove to the judge the day you’re in the court that they didn’t quit it. So what we did is talk to the parent (the kids were doing the drugs in the garage) and told them we were going to evict them. We gave them the 3 day notice but DID NOT file the eviction. We waited for rent time to come around, and of course, thinking we were going to evict them they did not pay rent. So we evicted them for nonpayment of rent!

  7. Rudy Graham says:

    Good article and head’s up.

  8. Make sure to have a professional cleaning company that is familiar with the cleaning process for meth labs clean it after the scene has been cleared. The company should give you some sort of document as well as the final test results to prove it was properly cleaned. In king county I know Blood and Biohazard cleaners can take care of this for you. http://www.bloodandbiohazrdcleaners.com

  9. sheila moore says:

    Thank you so much for the Info, so very blessed to have a property management company that I can trust.
    I do appreciate there efforts to protect my interests.

    Sheila moore

  10. Diann Cullen says:

    I would hope that my management company is already aware of meth labs in rental properties and takes that in to consideration when they do inspections. I think my company inspects quarterly. Is that enough?

  11. KT says:

    Is there a way in the lease agreement to make the renters liable for the cleanup rather than the landlord beyond a security deposit? For example can you require them to have a renters insurance policy or liability policy that would totally protect the landlord from result of their criminal activity?

  12. Judy says:

    Great article good info to have!!

  13. Scott N says:

    Great article. I think the real key is tight screening of tenants as you point out. Calling all references and the previous landlord is a must. Checking with the tenant’s employer is also important.

  14. Tracey March says:

    That would be a question of state law, but I think it’s unlikely you can fully insulate yourself from liability for hazardous waste cleanup in the rental agreement. Odds are that your renter won’t have the money to pay for the cleanup. And I’m not sure any insurance company would allow a tenant to have a liability policy that would clean up meth labs that they set up. It might be a good idea though to contact your insurance agent to see what your particular company offers in the way of protection. The key really is tenant screenings and regular inspections. And also, try not to have your rental property be empty for too long. A headline today was about a meth lab being discovered when the property was being shown. Apparently the person cooking the meth had broken into the empty rental.

  15. Tracey March says:

    Quarterly inspections seem reasonable. If your property management company is doing that, and they have a good tenant screening procedure in place, you?re a step ahead of many rental property owners. Meth labs tend to be found in smaller rentals, with self-managed landlords who are too busy to have formal screening or inspections. – See more at: http://www.allpropertymanagement.com/blog/2013/09/11/rental-property-meth-labs-living-the-breaking-bad-nightmare/#sthash.HJmM3QnF.dpuf

  16. Tracey March says:

    I absolutely agree about tight screening. Also, be careful about leaving your rental properties empty. A headline in the news today reported on a meth lab being discovered during a tour of an empty rental property. The property manager and renter got out of there right away and the police caught the burglar/meth cooker.

  17. Monica White says:

    I appreciate the heads up. It seems to be to the point where the tenants always seem to come out ahead. The landlords, we are the ones who work hard and try to do the right things for tenants. It seems to never be the other way around. Also, there is so much regulation and requirements that landlords must follow. When are the laws going to crack down more on the tenants? Tenants get off free so often for non-payment of rent. I wished I never got in this racket. One has to work way too hard, invest way too much money & time for it ever to pay off proportionately. I am just about done. Especially due to the fact that my rental property is in a low-income, crime infested, inner-city, area. You can hardly win at this business anymore. The risks far outweigh the rewards almost 90% of the time. I’m out.

  18. Arnon says:

    I did not find any insurance company to include property clean from meth contamination in its policy. Any suggestion for how to be more secure than the by annually inspections? How to find the insurance company to include it?

  19. Julia Land says:

    Thanks so much for the info. Very significant and thought provoking. Seems to us thorough screening and frequent inspections are probably the only avenues to hopefully minimize odds of this happening. We are so appreciative of your diligence and professionalism. Julia L.

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