The neighbours knew. The police knew. But the landlord apparently was unaware that the rental property had become a drug den.
Calgary police say they were called to the suburban property 40 times in six months, including calls to attend three overdoses. Police also say the tenant had sublet rooms in the house to several other people. After frequent complaints from neighbours, the house eventually was shuttered and the tenant and subtenants were evicted. Now, the landlord is tasked with restoring the property and getting it back into service.
Experts say that illicit drug use is a problem in many communities, including quiet, suburban areas. In rental properties, it spells income loss for landlords. Missed rent payments, property damage, neighbour or police complaints and other nuisance claims can make what seemed an ideal tenancy into a landlord’s worst nightmare.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to spot crime like illegal drug use at a rental, but there are some steps that landlords can take to safeguard the property:
The Need for Inspections
In the aftermath of closing down this drug den, Calgary police recommend “landlords periodically check on their property to ensure they don’t find themselves in similar situations.” RCMP has suggested that rental property inspections should take place every six weeks or so.
If that seems too much for your property, consider a different interval, but do conduct inspections throughout the tenancy. Inspections cannot be a surprise — landlords need to provide notice even if the inspection schedule is set out in the lease. But this is a good thing. Landlords don’t want to catch the tenant in the act, but rather prevent the tenants from the action in the first place. Knowing that inspections are imminent is the best incentive for tenants to behave and not risk getting caught doing something illegal.
Know what to look for when checking up on the property, and don’t be naive about the possibility that your tenants are dealing drugs. While there may be populations more at risk, those trends change quickly. Tenants may find themselves suddenly overwhelmed with an addiction and unaware that things are spiraling out of control. For more on routine property inspections, see our post, 5 Things to Look for During Rental Property Inspections.
Absentee landlords are at greater risk for criminal activity and property damage at their rental properties. Tenants who know someone is watching are less likely to take chances.
Neighbours a Valuable Resource
Calgary police have another suggestion to avoid a crisis: Get to know the neighbours.
That’s good advice for landlords as well as residents. Providing contact information to adjacent property owners is an act of goodwill that can go a long way towards resolving everyday conflicts. Neighbours also can be an essential resource when it comes to stopping criminal activity and minimizing income loss from property damage.
There may be other community resources that are helpful. For instance, check for a Crime-Free Multi Housing program in the area. This program aids landlords by providing the most up-to-date information about crime. Landlords may have the opportunity to attend training seminars on spotting crime in rental properties, and also to network with local police officers who respond to the calls. Crime prevention programs such as these can make it easier to evict a tenant who is causing disturbances.
Look for neighbourhood watch programs or other associations that offer meetings where neighbours can connect and discuss any conflicts without the need for police intervention.
Hindsight is always the best guide, so learn from other landlords’ mistakes.
For instance, a landlord who had to step through several inches of trash — including drug paraphernalia — to get inside the unit, and then later had to repair plumbing and drywall and boot an unauthorized guest found holed up behind a locked bedroom door, only learned afterwards that the police had visited the unit numerous times.
The one extraordinary thing about the 35-year-old tenant was that his father insisted on paying the rent directly. Coincidence? Or, did the father know the tenant could not be trusted to hold his life together for the duration of the lease?
Be wary of cash-only payers, trashed credit, or complaints from previous landlords about unpaid rent or unauthorized guests. These are disqualifying factors.
Screening tenants regarding drug use is very tricky. Substance addiction may be viewed as a disability, and that means the applicant or tenant is protected from housing discrimination. Landlords must be careful not to cross the line by interviewing tenants about drug use. Focus instead on an applicant’s rental history, ability to pay, and the landlord’s anti-crime policy.
What may seem patently obvious to a landlord may not be as clear to the tenant. Sure, it’s a crime to do drugs, but do the tenants understand they could be evicted? Connect the dots in the tenancy agreement so tenants are confronted with the possible outcome for:
Increased traffic to the property;
Noise and disturbances; and
Trash or other safety concerns.
To the extent that the lease is silent, the tenant may not weigh the consequences. If the tenancy agreement can prevent this bad behaviour, that, in turn, will stave off calls to the police or other community officials and reduce a landlord’s liabilities.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.