A Landlord’s Guide to Dealing with Legal Trouble & Criminal Activity

Property Management Blog

How does a landlord deal with tenants who engage in criminal activity or deal illicit substances and drugs on the property? Is the landlord responsible for the safety of tenants from burglars, thieves and criminals? Do landlords face any legal trouble due to their tenants’ criminal activities?

Most newbie landlords do not bother with these questions, while others typically seek legal guidance when a disaster ensues. These questions demand scrutiny and attention long before you list your property and start responding to applicants. A vigilant attitude towards avoiding legal troubles will help you create a comprehensive and strict screening process.

However, seasoned and hardened criminals can also escape the toughest of screening processes. Suppose you agreed to rent your property to a seemingly decent tenant after all the background and financial checks turned out to be satisfactory. A few months down the lane, you discover your tenant to be involved in criminal activities or dealing drugs on your premises. How do you respond to these events, and avoid legal trouble as the property owner?

Keep reading to find out how you can deal with criminal tenants and avoid legal trouble.

Tenants who deal illicit substances & drugs

Tenants who deal illegal drugs and illicit substances on the property can create overwhelming legal trouble and inconvenience for their landlords.

Let’s take a look at the legal issues drug-dealing renters can create for their landlords:

  • The federal, state and local authorities can impose heavy penalties and fines on the landlord for allowing criminal activity on their property.
  • The presence of drug dealers and hardened criminals can prompt the federal, state or local authorities to impound the rental property. However, this only happens in extreme cases.
  • Law enforcement personnel can involve the landlord in criminal proceedings for abetting and allowing illicit drug trade on the property.
  • If the drug dealers injure another tenant or disrupt the peace of the neighborhood, the injured or disgruntled individual can initiate legal proceedings against the landlord on grounds that his/her property is a threat to public safety or the values of the neighborhood.

Aside from the legal consequences, renting your property to a drug dealer brings negative publicity that tarnishes the reputation and environment of a rental property. It can reduce the market value of the property, making it exceedingly challenging to find and retain decent tenants in the future.

Avoiding Legal Trouble

Can a landlord avoid legal trouble and liability due to tenants who engage in criminal activities? Indeed, they can adopt a responsible approach and take practical steps to reduce their liability in any criminal proceedings or lawsuits.

However, before we dwell into these steps, we must reiterate the significance of adopting strict screening measures and inspecting the property regularly.

Here are some practical measures landlords can take to avoid legal conundrums:

  • Adopt a strict and thorough screening process to screen tenants who are decent, responsible and reliable, law-abiding citizens. Running background checks and consulting the local law enforcement authorities is crucial to weed out applicants with a history of criminal activity, violence, credit fraud or financial scams.
  • Do not rent your property to a tenant who insists on making the rental payments in cash. Set up an online rental payment platform, and insist the tenant use that platform to obtain the payments through a verified financial banking system.
  • Landlords must have a strict and vigilant response to any disruptions or criminal behavior. The rental agreement must have specific clauses and provisions that forbid the tenant from engaging in any criminal activity or drug dealing. The clause must state the consequences of such an action.
  • The landlord must promptly inform the local authorities in case of criminal activity on the premises, and send an eviction notice to tenants who violate the agreement.
  • Keep a close eye on the property and conduct regular inspections. The landlord must observe the tenant’s activities to identify suspicious dealings.
  • If the landlord receives a complaint from another tenant or neighbor regarding criminal activity or drug dealing on the premises, it’s crucial to engage the local police immediately.

It’s wise to consult the local law enforcement authorities or a security expert on the measures a landlord is legally permissible to take to identify and prevent criminal activities on their property. States and localities have varying regulations and laws governing the landlord-tenant relationship. Therefore, it’s wise to consult the local police or sheriff on the permissible steps you can take to secure your property against criminal tenants.

Are landlords responsible for the security and safety of their tenants?

In most states, landlords are partially held responsible by the law to safeguard their tenants against burglars, thieves and assailants who can enter the property. The landlord must also protect tenants from fellow tenants who engage in criminal activity or drug dealing.

More importantly, the landlord is legally responsible for protecting the neighbors and upholding the neighborhood’s values against tenants who engage in illegal activities, especially drug dealing. In a neighborhood dominated by families and little children, drug-dealing tenants can cause overwhelming trouble for the landlord.

Wrapping Up

In recent years, tenants are increasingly filing lawsuits against their tenants after sustaining injuries and damages due to criminals entering their property. Typically, the court sides in the favor of the tenant, and in many cases, the jury has awarded the tenant with staggering settlements as high as $1 million.

If a criminal activity occurs on your property, as the landlord, you will be held liable, especially if your property has been the scene of criminal activity in the past. Renting your home to a criminal or drug dealer can destroy the reputation and market value of your property drastically.

So, what’s the best solution? The ideal solution is to adopt a strict and thorough screening process, and avoid applicants who insist on paying a hefty advance in cash. Be sure to maintain transparency and rely on written communication.

If you’d like to talk more about property management, or you need help with Everest Property Management, please contact us at Everest Realty.

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