5 Steps for Landlords to Create a Drug-Free Neighborhood

Written on April 8, 2014 by , updated on June 11, 2014

Drug-Free NeighborhoodWhat will you do if your tenants complain about a drug dealer who moved in down the street?

After the knot in your stomach clears, you take a deep breath.

No one wants a problem like this dumped in their lap, but ignoring it only hurts your real estate business. If your rental is not in a drug-free neighborhood, you won’t be able to command top-dollar, and your tenants will continually cycle through.

Confronting such a problem, however, can raise the appeal of your block, lower vacancy rates and increase rents.

That’s what’s happened for me.

As an inner city landlord who has unwittingly rented to dealers, and as someone who has helped other landlords chase them off, I offer you this field-tested guide for success.

Come to Terms with Your Unique Qualifications

Your tenants and rental neighbors may be frustrated and fearful of potential drug-related violence. Or even worse, they may fear retaliation if they “snitch” to the police.

This is why you, as a landlord who does not reside in the area, are the ideal person to help resolve this problem. You are a force multiplier and have the ability to:

  • Speak to the enabling landlord as a peer.
  • Feel less fearful of retaliation because you don’t live in the area.
  • Financially quantify the damage the enabling landlord’s negligence has on your business, giving you grounds to file small claims and other measures.

Whereas the police and neighbors fight an uphill battle, a landlord may have a much easier time urging one of their own to get rid of a toxic tenant.

Apply Heat to the Landlord, Not the Dealer

Apply some heat to the enabling Landlord

Apply some heat to the enabling Landlord

Have you ever used a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on a friend’s hand? They could stand the heat for a little while, but jumped once the intensity built up.

Making them flinch didn’t take much effort; you just angled the lens and held it in place. But in reality, you created a steel-melting torch and got results that were disproportionate to your efforts.

I use this analogy to illustrate how an advocate landlord can persuade another landlord to dump their drug-dealing tenant.

It doesn’t take much effort on your part, and if done correctly, the benefits will be exponential!

How to Dislodge a Drug Dealing Renter

Step 1: Locate the “Sun”

An organized group is a source of enormous power.

If you choose to play a role in ousting a drug dealer whose activities are directly affecting your property’s desirability, then you’ll want to locate a few strategic players to guarantee success.

Here are the power players you’ll need on your team:

  • Another Landlord:
    It is counter intuitive, but your fellow landlords are your best allies, not the residents. Your fellow landlords are small business owners like you, and they share your motivation to increase rents and upgrade tenant profiles. Other landlords can quantify their grievances and file claims against the enabling landlord as well.
  • Law Enforcement:
    Your local police or public affairs officer is also your friend. Typically, resources are scarce and the police don’t always show up when drug dealing is called in. However, they do document calls for service and this third-party documentation will come in handy in later steps.
  • Resident Leader:
    Every neighborhood has an unofficial mayor; a long-term resident whom neighbors look up to. These local leaders are not difficult to find, just ask a few kids. It’s best to recognize this person and magnify their leadership. Make sure they are sufficiently dissatisfied with the status quo before trying to move forward. Convince them that the neighborhood deserves better and help them understand how drug dealing drives honorable businesses away.

Next, ask your allies to help you gather facts, a timeline, photos, videos, and other evidence to document the problem as if you were going to court.

Be as thorough as possible in gathering evidence because it will make the following steps much easier.

Step 2: Take Aim (Contact Enabling Landlord)

With your allies on board, and ample documentation in hand, you’re ready to make first contact.

It’s best to assume the dealer’s landlord is completely clueless about the situation. You should expect them to be overwhelmed (or act as if they are) by the problem and not know what to do. Naturally, they will talk with their tenant, and naturally their tenant will deny everything. This is where your preparation in Step 1 pays off!

You will greatly help a cooperative landlord to evict their drug-dealing tenant by providing them with overwhelming evidence. Once they confront their tenant, the game of cat and mouse will begin.

Convince the landlord that evicting the tenant is the only remedy; hoping a drug dealer will spontaneously reform is not realistic.

Tip: NEVER confront someone else’s tenant. It’s emotionally draining, weakens your authority and risks turning the dealer into a martyr or, much worse, you into a victim of violence. Operate strictly on a landlord-to-landlord level.

Step 3: Focus the Sunlight

Follow up with the enabling landlord by taking a:

  • Soft Approach: The owner may be an accidental landlord. You may need to help them understand lease clauses regarding nuisance tenants and what’s required to break a lease. It’s in your best interest to be prepared to help educate your potential landlord ally about your state’s landlord-tenant laws.
  • Hard Approach: Not every landlord will be receptive. If that’s the case, you have plenty of ammunition at your disposal. Follow a dispute resolution ladder, which may look like this:
    1. Send a Nice Letter: Send the enabling landlord a friendly hand-written letter requesting their cooperation.
    2. Notify Authorities: Send a formal, certified letter and cc your local police captain and city council person.
    3. Send a Formal Letter: Send a letter via registered mail detailing the previous attempts to communicate and put the enabling landlord on notice that you hold them personally responsible for every bullet fired from their property.
    4. File a Claim: File a small claim against the enabling landlord for loss of rent, move-out expenses, and prolonged vacancies. It may cost as little as $30 to file.
    5. Involve the Government: Work with your city attorney’s office to utilize “Justice for Neighbor” type and/or nuisance-abatement programs that prevent irresponsible property owners from profiting at the expense of their neighbors.

I’ve never gone past filing a small claim to get action, but the owners knew I was prepared to do so. If you bluff once, you will lose all credibility.

Once you have assembled a dispute resolution ladder specific to your city, you’ll have an extremely large crowbar that will help dislodge any drug-dealing renter.

Step 4: Hold Steady

It’s important that you not get worn out by the process. If you need to take a hard approach, work relentlessly but avoid letting emotions get the best of you.

A magnifying glass will only light a fire if you hold it steady.

Remember, your goal is to build heat over time. To speed things up, get other landlords to climb the dispute ladder with you; make the uncooperative landlord fight on multiple fronts.

When it becomes clear to the targeted landlord that they face a relentless group of neighbors and mounting costs, they will make move-out arrangements.

Do not expect instantaneous results.

It can take a couple of months to legally break a lease. Make your team aware that they might even notice an uptick in shady activity as the dealer scrambles to raise moving money (and recognize that the increased activity isn’t entirely a bad thing).

Don’t lose hope. Be patient during the eviction or move-out period.

Once you receive confirmation of the move-out schedule, encourage your team to take a step back. When the situation is moving in a favorable direction, you want to watch in silence.

Don’t “torch” a cooperating landlord.

He/she is a critical part of the community.

Tip: This is an excellent time to buy additional rentals in the area. Confronting a shared menace tends to bring neighbors closer together. If you help fill the void that the dealer leaves with positive things (formal crime-watch meetings, National Night Out celebrations, block parties, cultural celebrations, etc.), your block will be well on its way to recovery.

Step 5: Throw a Party – Or Else

Honor the authorities who helped remove the drug dealer

Honor the authorities who helped remove the dealer

This is a crucial step. Get people together and celebrate publicly.

Make sure there’s plenty of free food because you want the largest turnout possible. If you can, hold the celebration in the middle of the street to increase visibility.

Publicly thank the former enabling landlord – be quick to forgive.

Make sure to publicly thank the uniformed police officers that should be  in attendance. Declare that your neighborhood doesn’t tolerate drug dealers.

This “burn the boat” tactic that will help residents and neighboring landlords make the mental shift needed to prevent another dealer from filling the void.

Your goal is to get the word out so other landlords take greater care in filling their vacancies. They need to realize that, in the long run, it’s in their best interest.

Of course you don’t want to plan a party all by yourself; you should propose the idea and then make sure that it happens. If it does, then you’ll have a nice window of opportunity to buy other rentals in a neighborhood that’s getting safer. If it doesn’t, you may get another distress call from your tenants or neighbors.

So there you have it — a proven system that I’ve used to guide my block through a neighborhood revitalization process.

For more field-tested success strategies on inner city landlording, check out Building Wealth with Inner City Rentals.

photo credit: Cayusa, spacepleb, northcharleston via cc
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6 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Russ Henning

    This is an excellent column. Positive yet pragmatic with specific suggestions and a systematic approach to solving the problem. Truly helpful.

  • Allan Priest

    Great insightsi and specific recommended actions. As a relatively new landlord with just a few properties, such input is always valuable in improving capabilities in dealing with unique situations. Thanks.

  • Lynn

    Gosh, how I wish you were my landlord!
    This is a Tad bit off the subject, but I have a question regarding a landlords legal responsibility to put adequate lighting available around parking area on rental property (even if its his own property that houses 2 separate rentals).

    Last night my car was egged and its pitch dark around my House /car and there’s no light at all for my back porch/yard.

    I believe my new neighbors next door have done this since I’ve had to complain about them and it would have been pretty brazen for someone to come up that far onto the property. Nothing else was damaged, just my car. I’ve texted the landlord telling him and nicely asking him if he’d be willing to put up adequate lighting since I don’t feel safe. If he refuses and further damage to my car or if Im harmed, can he be held liable for any damages? Would you suggest I mention.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lynn,

      Al (the author) asked me to respond to this. According to the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act of 1972, one of a landlord’s responsibilities is to: “comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety;”

      I have no idea if there is a “code” in your state/city that mandates outside lighting, but it sure does seem like common sense.

      *I think* it’s a landlords job to make sure the premise is safe, which including providing adequate lighting to deter criminal activity.

      Hopefully your landlord will agree to put up a flood light, which would probably only cost him between $100-$300 if he hired a pro. But even if he doesn’t, I don’t believe the landlord would be responsible. You should file a police report and assist the police in an investigation. Hopefully, you have car insurance as well.

      Is it possible that it was an accident? I had a roommate who was taking out the trash cans and scrapped the side of a car as he carelessly dragged the bins to the curb. It looked just like the car had been keyed.

  • Charlotte brown

    I am a landlord with a drug dealer. Because of Seattle’s ‘just cause evictions’ for month to month tenants, I can’t get rid of this tenant directly. I have to be indirect such as raise the rents, put in surveillance cameras, improve lighting. The police are already very overwhelmed so it’s hard to catch him actually doing something illegal.

    Any ideas about how to make my building safer?

  • Leigh Anne

    What to do when the property manager is a heroin addict?

    she encourages other drug activity in the building, deputizes the drug-oriented tenants to gang up on elderly tenants and make them afraid of speaking out – or even asking for repairs.

    definitely goes into some apartments and goes through their things.

    definitely goes into my mailbox while within range of a security camera, and steals my mail. I called police, she lost her mind all over the first floor of the building when confronted, and flat out refused to let police review security footage. The police left it that way, without insisting on reviewing the tapes.

    she sets up phony collections for various charitable purposes, then does not give the money to the intended charity.

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