Hope Jones, Cuyahoga Falls deputy law director, said there have been less than five instances of landlords having to foot the bill for site remediation since the 2008 meth lab clean-up ordinance was approved.
Jones said the law director’s office has evaluated each situation on a case-by-case basis, determining first if the meth lab creator can pay for site cleanup.
“This ordinance gives the city the right to not just remediate (sites) ourselves, but if we think we can … recover the cost by asking for restitution in the criminal case, it gives us that option,” Jones said.
However, she added, “Meth is not a drug where you’re going to have wealthy users. Maybe there’s a car out there, a computer, something that we could seize.”
To date, the city hasn’t had to go after any property owners for restitution.
“There’s a section in the ordinance that allows for if we get an owner that’s unresponsive … we can place the cost of remediation on their tax bill via the (Summit) County Fiscal Office,” Jones explained.
That payment situation has occurred – but not because the property owner was unresponsive.
“We’ve had owners come to us saying, ‘We want to clean up, but don’t have the money.’ Maybe they’re older and on (Social Security), and it’s a younger family member who’s cooked (meth) in the house,” she said.
Jones has not heard any complaints from landlords who think it’s unfair to be charged for a tenant’s illegal activities.
“In this economy, I don’t know that landlords are making a killing. But the whole point is, who’s it fair to place the burden on? The taxpayers of the city or the person who rented the property? Unfortunately it’s not a fair question, but it has to be placed on the landlord,” Jones said.
And she acknowledged that even the most conscientious landlord could get stuck with a site remediation bill.
“I don’t know any landlord that just rents knowingly or willingly to a drug dealer. You could have a tenant you screened very well who’s an upstanding citizen. Then that person lets a long-lost friend stay with them and that person sets up a meth lab. It doesn’t take long to do it,” Jones said.