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.?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.
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:
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.
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:
- Have a solid tenant screening system in place, or hire a property management company?that does.
- 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).
- Check employment references, and verify income. Follow up if your tenant pays for rent in cash.
- 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.
- 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.
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
 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.