As a landlord, you have many things to worry about. Is the rent going to be paid on time? Do you have sufficient insurance on your properties? Are you going to have big, unexpected expenses, or a tenant who disappears in the night?
If you’re like most landlords, you do your best to prevent nasty surprises, by running tenant background checks that include criminal and credit checks, calling references and verifying employment, but even if you do everything right, there are still things that can go wrong down the line.
One of the most difficult to prove and deal with is a tenant who you suspect is dealing drugs, but since this is a big issue for many landlords today, we thought we’d outline a few common signs, as well as your rights and responsibilities as a landlord.
Is Your Tenant Dealing Drugs?
While none of these are definite proof that your tenant is dealing drugs, they are strong indicators that something may be amiss:
#1: Your tenant has large numbers of visitors who stop by at strange hours and don’t stay long. If this is a regular occurrence, and they’re different people all the time, with very little in common, then this might be a red flag. Talk to your tenant, and find out if there’s a rational explanation (it may be a study group or a very enthusiastic book club!)
#2: Any requests to pay rent in cash should be viewed with suspicion, and not just for drug dealing. If your tenant wants to pay in cash regularly, they might be involved in any number of illegal activities, and may be using you to launder the proceeds of crime.
#3: A sharp spike in utility usage is another clue that something may be amiss. Grow houses and meth labs, among other drug operations, all use larger amounts of power and water than normal.
#4: You suspect the tenant you rented the property to was a front, because you never see them around now that the lease is signed.
#5: Finally, if you notice strange odors around the property or locked doors to sheds or garages, that’s another big red flag.
If you see any of these or other suspicious signals, even if your tenant background check was positive it’s good to investigate.
What Can You Do?
Suspecting that your tenant is dealing drugs is one thing, but actually taking any action is a very different story, and it can be difficult to figure out what you should do, and what your rights are.
The first thing you should do in a case like this is talk to the police in the neighborhood. If there is suspected illegal activity in your property, they may already know about it, or if not, they may investigate at your request.
In most states and in most leases, it is legal to enter a rental property without notice if there’s a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity, but if you do opt to do this, make sure you ask the police to accompany you too. Not only will this help to legitimize the unscheduled inspection, but if there is criminal activity in progress, it will help to protect you.
The only thing you shouldn’t do is ignore the problem. Not only is your property at risk, but there’s always a chance that you might be viewed as a possible accessory if you suspect or know about illegal activities and you don’t report them.