Tenant dealing drugs

5 Replies

I’ve owned a duplex in upstate NY for about 5 years. I’ve had several great tenants over the years but most recently I’ve had complaints from the neighbors and second floor tenants (before they moved out last month) about drug use and possible dealing out of the first floor of the house. I’m in the process of renovating the second floor and getting ready to put the house up for sale in July. What are my options in regards to the first floor tenant? I obviously don’t condone drug use in the house and don’t want him scaring away prospective buyers. One of the neighbor is friends with a local cop who said the house is being watched for drug activity. Is there anyway I can get this tenant out of the house before buyer start coming in to look at it?

Hi @Sean Prestia .  We had a tenant similar to what you described and were in this same predicament.  Let me ask... when is the tenants' lease up?  If it coming up soon to renew, you could just choose to non-renew and they would have to vacate within 60 days.  Or if you aren't sure and want to keep them in a bit longer, you could opt to offer them a month-to-month lease and then when you choose to let them go, simply give them 60 days notice.  

If their renewal is long way off, you could do a spot inspection and if you find anything in disarray or that goes against the lease they signed you can order them to rectify and say random spot inspections will be conducted [with a 24 hour notice, of course].  If they don't comply, you could then start the eviction process based on tenant non-compliance. 

Key factors:  

a) the terms of your rental agreement (lease);

b) the landlord-tenant law for your jurisdiction;

c) other laws and ordinances for your jurisdiction.

Do you have a month-to-month rental agreement or a long-term lease? Is the tenant in violation of one or more clauses of your rental agreement? Does your jurisdiction allow a "no-cause" eviction or only a "for cause" eviction? Is the tenant approachable? When was the last time you did a unit inspection?

First, you need to thoroughly document everything, starting with when and how you became aware of a problem.

Second, you need to verify the situation. Start with what you can observe from the outside, before the tenant knows you're watching. Since you believe local law enforcement is watching the house, you should contact them and discuss the matter with them. They may know whether the occupants of your rental, or their invitees, are dangerous. That's always a possibility, so use caution and protect yourself. Don't be surprised if local law enforcement is tight lipped about what they know and what they are doing. But let them know your concern and your observations and what you plan to do. If it gets really bad, it may end up in a police raid. If that happens, it could result in damage to your property, such as a broken down door.

Third, get inside the unit. It's time for an inspection. Serve a legal notice to enter for a "maintenance inspection."  While you're in the unit be very observant of what you see and smell. Also keep an eye out for evidence of any lease violation.... unauthorized occupants, unauthorized animals, tampered smoke alarms, damages, etc.

In addition to checking all of the smoke alarm devices, plumbing fixtures, electrical fixtures, appliances, and operation of doors and windows, ask the tenant if there's anything that's not working or needs attention. Change the furnace filter and open the floor registers to clean out the ducts with a vacuum - routine maintenance. Evidence of smoking in the unit may be seen in the furnace filter (bag it and save it). Other evidence may be found in the floor ducts just below the registers (cigarette and reefer butts, hypodermic needles, other), so look before you vacuum and be careful what you touch.

Face this head on. Take into account your management style and how easy it is to approach the tenant. Begin by enforcing the terms of your rental agreement. Make it clear that you will be more present at the property to make sure that the terms of the rental agreement are followed and for property upkeep. Since you are renovating the other unit, you will also be on the premises more often than you normally would. Drug dealers and buyers will avoid a place where they know others are present and watching. This alone may be enough to deter any further activity at your place.

You may be able to negotiate a move-out plan with the tenant to get them to voluntarily leave, and thus avoid a lengthy and costly process of eviction. Let the tenant know you're planning to put the property up for sale in July and would prefer to sell it empty. Give them incentive to move on their own accord (less drama, less damage). Even "cash for keys" is a possibility. Everything's negotiable, even mutually agreeing to terminate a lease early.

Good luck!

Thank you for the replies. The tenant's lease doesn't expire until Jan 2019. I use the standard NY State Residential lease agreement (https://rentalleaseagreements.com/download.php?id=1264). 

Under Use of Premises it states: "Tenant shall comply with any and all laws, ordinances, rules and orders of any and all governmental or quasi-governmental authorities affecting the cleanliness, use, occupancy and preservation of the Premises"

So I at least I can start the eviction process if I find evidence, though I don't really want to go through that as I'm also trying to sell the house. 

I'll be at the house again this weekend and will speak to him about a move out plan. At this point I would offer July rent back for him to vacate the house by the end of the month so I can sell the house empty. In the meantime I will document everything that I find and hear. 

@Marcia Maynard has some very good suggestions.  Knowing your state's l/t laws, and knowing what exactly is in your lease will go a long way for you to take more direct action.

We have a "zero tolerance" clause in our leases regarding both domestic violence and illegal drugs (or legal drugs used illegally).   We also have a 2-or-more domestic disturbance visits from law enforcement are grounds to start eviction proceedings.

Whenever we learn of drug use/manufacturer/dealing, etc, we immediately send and post infraction-of-lease notice.  We also contact local law enforcement to let them know we suspect drug activity at the property/unit, and we keep accurate records of all contacts.

If said activity continues, we initiate court action for eviction.  We do not worry about selling or the possible buyer(s) but face the immediate problem.  In today's world, people are very conscious about drugs, and so long as you are taking action, people (like potential buyers) will understand.

Here is a recent example of what we've come to expect:  tenant A complains of pot smoke entering her apartment from tenant B.  (only 2 units in the building.)  We told tenant A to call the police and we did (as managers) also.

When the police arrived, they said they could do nothing, and advised tenant A to sue us, the management company.  

At the time, we had already started the eviction process for tenant B, and explained to tenant A what the procedures and time frame would be.  (No, we were not scared we could be sued--anyone can sue anybody for any reason at any time.  A suit like that would go nowhere, and we considered if we were served, to sue the individual police officer that gave legal advice to tenant A.  Hah!)

With respect, police in general today are much too busy fighting meth, heroin and opioid dealing/use to worry much about cannabis--that's an 'off the record' comment from a detective we know.

So, assess the situation, take positive action, don't worry and keep moving forward!

Originally posted by @Sean Prestia :

I’ve owned a duplex in upstate NY for about 5 years. I’ve had several great tenants over the years but most recently I’ve had complaints from the neighbors and second floor tenants (before they moved out last month) about drug use and possible dealing out of the first floor of the house. I’m in the process of renovating the second floor and getting ready to put the house up for sale in July. What are my options in regards to the first floor tenant? I obviously don’t condone drug use in the house and don’t want him scaring away prospective buyers. One of the neighbor is friends with a local cop who said the house is being watched for drug activity. Is there anyway I can get this tenant out of the house before buyer start coming in to look at it?