Identifying and eliminating drugs in rental properties

Every landlord should have zero tolerance policy for the consumption of drugs at rental properties. Your tenancy agreement should include a clause that any unlawful activities are a breach of the tenancy agreement. Comprehensive systems and processes should also be followed to ensure tenants abide by these policies especially at the tenant selection process and during regular inspection cycles.

Many property owners are unaware of the risk of drugs in rental properties. The risk is not only to the tenant’s health and the safety of neighbours, but there is also the risk your property may be contaminated. We know that Methamphetamine (commonly called ‘Meth’ or ‘P’) use in New Zealand is widely acknowledged and it has been used and manufactured in New Zealand for over 15 years. Between 2000 and 2012, over 1900 Meth labs were busted by police and 75% of these were discovered in residential properties. What we don’t know is the affect that this manufacture and use has had on contaminating the actual property. Landlords need to police the use of drugs in order to protect future tenants and neighbours, as well as their asset. It is a general belief that most labs are found in owner managed properties and this is most likely a result of a less regular inspection programme and less rigorous tenant selection on the part of some landlords. Some tenants indeed “bully” private landlords and/or refuse to cooperate with regular inspections. If that happens to you it is a definite red flag that you may have a problem.

If you become aware that your tenant is using drugs in your property then you need to take steps to protect both yourself and your property. Safety is paramount so if you arrange an inspection make sure you take some support in the form of a friend or advocate. Always make sure that the tenant is aware of the inspection and the appropriate notice has been given as this will help ensure there are no surprises and help ensure your safety. If a tenant is clearly under the influence of drugs and this is reflected in their behaviour and causing aggressive communication, then it may be prudent to leave and come back another time. Try not to antagonise tenants and make situations worse as usually this achieves nothing and can make a situation worse.

You have various options once you have discovered drugs are being used in your rental property. If the tenant has consumed Marijuana then it may be a simple case of letting the tenant know that this is an illegal activity and they have breached the law and their tenancy agreement. An understanding can usually be agreed upon that the tenant will not consume the drug at the property again and if they continue to do so, you will terminate the tenancy and notify the police.

However, other more serious drugs often need a more serious approach. Class A drugs such as LSD, Cocaine and Methemphetamine are a lot more serious and landlords need to be aware of these. Again safety always comes first so take steps to ensure your safety and leave the property immediately. As professional property managers we are obligated to inform the police if we come across serious drugs like this and we recommend owners do the same. Firstly you should concentrate on terminating the tenancy and then when the property is vacant you may need to have the property tested to see if it has been contaminated. If it has been contaminated then you will be required to decontaminate prior to re-letting.

Landlords will often ask “how do I know if drugs are being consumed?” There are many signs and the benefit of having a professional property manager is that we are trained to look for these. Private landlords need to learn to look for signs and there are ways to stay informed. Firstly, know your neighbours and maintain a positive relationship. They are often the best way to keep track of your tenants and can tell you if there has been unusual activity at unusual times. Talk to the tradesmen who visit your property and ask for their feedback. During regular inspections check for unusual installations at the property such as security cameras, alarms, additional water pipes or ventilation and fans installed in strange places without your consent. Also look for unusual rubbish, packaging, bi-products and tools used for consumption. If you are not inspecting your property regularly you should be! You can also have devices installed in properties to monitor and warn you if Meth is being manufactured in your property and MethSolutions is a great example of this.

Terminating tenancies due to drugs takes time and applications should generally be made to the Tenancy Tribunal and can be a long, difficult process. If you are aware of a conviction for using drugs at your home you should request a copy of the police report under the Official Information Act as you can use this for evidence at court. Sometimes it may be prudent to negotiate with the tenant to avoid a hearing. For example, the tenant agrees to give notice and move out. Another alternative is to issue the tenant with 90 days’ notice to terminate the tenancy. If you choose this option don’t relate the notice to a specific issue (such as the drugs) as you can’t issue notice as retaliation. If they ask why you issued notice the answer is always because you required possession.

Allen Realty are award winning specialist Auckland property managers, and as part of our commitment to our clients, we have undertaken training with MethSolutions Ltd. We now have four Auckland property managers who are trained and certified Meth Samplers who are able to use a specialist Meth DNA Indicative Sampling Kit to test samples. If a test indicates a positive result then your property manager will assist by utilising professionals to undertake further testing and decontamination. Fortunately we have never had a Meth lab in a property we manage and we believe that our robust systems and processes have assisted to protect our clients from this.

Many landlords may have a casual approach and feel recreational drugs are consumed by many New Zealanders without incident. But remember that some drugs are gateway drugs and even if they are not causing you problems now they may lead to bigger problems later down the track. This may include moving to more serious drugs, tenants being unable to pay rents or associating with other sinister crowds. If you have concerns about drugs being used in your property don’t delay and act today!