In an effort to curb a growing Meth epidemic in Hillsboro, the city council is debating a new ordinance that would make landlords responsible for the costs associated with cleaning up meth labs found in rental units.
First, we need to clarify the costs we are talking about. Every residential landlord already warrants to their tenants that the rental unit is suitable for human habitation, and a property that was the site of a meth lab will not be seen as habitable until it is properly cleaned up. As the owner of the property, you are responsible for the costs of making sure the property has been properly decontaminated, and if you don’t, you are opening yourself up to a significant civil liability (personal injury attorneys would salivate over a client poisoned by chemicals you knew about, and failed to properly clean up because you wanted to save a few bucks).
However, this legislation, which mirrors similar legislation that was passed in Chillicothe, could also put landlords on the hook for any of the “other” costs associated with the clean up, including the costs of the police and firefighters. As written, when a meth house is busted the law director could file an environmental lien on any real property for expenses incurred in investigating, mitigating, minimizing, removing or abating the spill, release, discharge or contamination.
Critics point out that landlords are already responsible for these costs (see warranty of habitability above) and that this legislation is an overreach by the city council. Proponents of the law say it is necessary to discourage landlords from allowing their properties to become meth houses.
What does this mean for you? If you own properties in Hillsboro (or any other city that passes a similar ordinance) it is important that you are proactive if you discover that one of your residents may be using your property to cook meth. If the final legislation mirrors Chillicothe’s ordinance, there are strict time tables you must meet to challenge any decision by the city to place a lien on your property. Further, no matter where your rental properties are located, it is important that you do a background check on all potential tenants to ensure they do not have a history of manufacturing illegal drugs. A meth lab in one of your properties could quickly turn your income property into a money pit.