What If Drugs Are Suspected?

Anytime you suspect that a tenant is breaking the law — using your property for an unintended purpose — you should take steps to end the tenancy. If you don't, you are putting yourself and your home in jeopardy with the law and at risk for lawsuits should anyone be injured. So get help. Call the police. Call your neighborhood association or crime prevention organizer if you have one. Create a paper trail that demonstrates that you have sought help before terminating the lease. It will help you make your case.

What kind of behavior is considered illegal?

You should watch for tenants who are involved with drugs, either selling, manufacturing, distributing, using, or processing them. Other illegal behaviors include storing stolen goods or engaging in prostitution.

Regulations for Evicting Lawbreakers

A landlord's liability for criminal activities varies depending on the state. At one extreme, some states demand that landlords evict lawbreaking tenants or they will shut down the building. If you live in Texas, you can be held strictly liable even if you didn't know anything illegal was going on. In Florida you don't even have to go to court; officials can shut down your dwelling if a local administrative board declares your property a nuisance. And New York allows neighbors within two hundred feet of the dwelling to start eviction proceedings themselves.

Some states are more protective of the tenants. For instance New Jersey says that landlords can evict tenants only after they've been convicted of a crime. But then in Texas and North Carolina landlords can act with only a reasonable suspicion. Find out what the regulations are in your state.

Promote Your Zero-Tolerance Policy

Your rental agreement should include a paragraph about not tolerating drugs or other illegal activities on your property. Let tenants know that you will terminate the lease and evict the tenant immediately if anything illegal takes place. Let your neighbors know, as well, that zero tolerance is your standard policy. Then if anyone makes a complaint, check it out thoroughly. Don't put it off.

Keep an eye on whether your tenant has a constant stream of visitors, especially late at night. Discourage it by putting bright lights over exterior doors and in hallways. Drug users don't want to be seen and a tenant selling drugs won't want them to be noticed.

You take the first step in protecting yourself and your property when you thoroughly screen prospective tenants. However, especially if you have more than four units, keep in mind that former drug abusers are protected by most local and state fair housing laws. Landlords of those properties can only refuse rental if the prospect was convicted of selling or manufacturing drugs.

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