I own a small, 10-unit apartment building. I suspect that at least one of my tenants is involved in dealing drugs. I don’t want them and their buddies dragging down my property’s reputability and endangering my investment. What are my options?
–Adrian in Orlando, FL
Unfortunately, your situation is not at all uncommon. As we speak, Florida and a number of other states are dealing with a serious heroin epidemic. Furthermore, heroin cut with fentanyl has exponentially increased the rate of lethal overdoses. Nobody wants anyone to die; and certainly, no landlord wants anyone to die on their property.
However, the problem isn’t limited to overdoses: A drug-dealing or drug-manufacturing operation attracts criminals to your rental property. These criminals will tend to strike as opportunities present themselves–and as a result, they may prey on families living in your community.
The situation is even more imperative if someone is manufacturing crystal methamphetamine. At best, the chemicals involved in the production of meth in your rental property could force you to renovate the entire building–and at worst, they could cause a toxic explosion.
Drug Use in Rental Properties: How to Respond
So what should your course of action be? The answer lies within your lease agreement. Almost all attorney-generated leases include a clause allowing you to evict if the tenant is engaging in criminal conduct and/or illicit drug activity. In addition, if the lease is well-written, you likely have a clause that allows you to evict if the tenant’s guests are engaging in those activities.
Many states allow landlords to pursue an expedited eviction process, without any opportunity to cure, if the tenant has engaged in illegal activities or nuisance behaviors–the precise definition of which varies by state.
For example, Florida eviction laws allow landlords to terminate a lease agreement with 7 days’ notice under these conditions. According to Florida Statute Section 83.56(2), your eviction notice should say, “You are advised that your lease is terminated effective immediately. You shall have 7 days from the delivery of this letter to vacate the premises. This action is taken because (cite the noncompliance).” 7 days from when your tenant receives your notice, you can go to court and file for the eviction.
You are not required to give the tenant an opportunity to cure if the tenant has been engaging in serious, irredeemable lease violations. Florida law does not specify drug activity as qualifying for this treatment, but it doesn’t exclude it, either. If you can demonstrate to the judge that a tenant or their guests are engaging in drug dealing on your property, you won’t have a problem getting the eviction order signed.
The difficulty comes about if the tenant shows up in court to contest the eviction. They could, for example, claim that you are mistaken–that they aren’t engaged in illegal drug activity or nuisance behaviors at all.
In that case, you would need to be able to show a preponderance of evidence that proves that the tenant has been engaging in nuisance behavior and is in violation of the lease. So be prepared to show up with evidence that backs up your case, including:
- An arrest or conviction for drug activity
- Witnesses who can testify as to the tenant’s illegal drug activity
- Photo evidence of drug paraphernalia in and around the apartment
- Photo evidence of large amounts of trash and chemical containers, such as those involved in meth production
While you may not be able to prove drug activity directly, you may be able to prove that the tenant is engaged in nuisance behavior if you can demonstrate a large amount of late-night traffic to and from the residence.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Orlando police blotter. Here’s a website that allows you to receive updates about incidents involving a police response at any address.
That being said, be careful, and be sure of your case. In Florida, if you try to evict and fail because you didn’t have proof, you could wind up paying the tenant’s legal fees as well as your own. Experienced eviction attorneys will generally tell you straight up when they think you won’t win your case. Landlord attorneys hate to lose; it’s bad for their reputations.
If the tenant contests your eviction, you may not be able to evict unless you get the police to confiscate the illegal substance, and they get a positive field test. If all that you have is some tenants complaining that they smell marijuana coming from the neighbor’s unit, you probably don’t have much of a case.
How to Prevent Drug Use in Rental Properties
Meanwhile, there are some things that you can do to prevent future problems:
- Get police to perform regular courtesy checks and patrols on your property.
- Invest in cameras-both obvious and hidden-and good lighting. Criminals don’t like to engage in crimes in well-lit areas covered by security cameras; it’s bad for business.
- Take the time to run a proper background check on every rental applicant.
- Contact prior landlords and other references. They may have been kicked out of previous housing for drug use or criminal activity. However, if they moved out before the previous landlord actually filed an eviction suit, it won’t show up on their background checks. Call their previous landlords and verify.
Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, Jason Van Steenwyk started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more.