They’re not happy about it, but city landlords appear to accept the fact that paying thousands for the cleanup of meth labs created in their properties is just part of the cost of doing business these days.
City Councilrecently approved an amendment to its 2008 meth lab cleanup ordinance that will eventually require property owners to pay even more than they were already obligated to for remediation of rental units.
The measure approved in 2008 states landlords must pay for site remediation if their tenants cannot. The remediation process involves removing all traces of chemical residue from a property, which can include tearing out carpeting and even walls and cost thousands of dollars.
The amendment will soon tack on the cost of the initial dismantling and removal of meth-related chemicals and paraphernalia from a property.
Dennis Bates, president of the Falls Landlord Council of Ohio, said members are resigned to accepting the new costs.
“Obviously we didn’t think we’d have more expenses coming. But meth labs are a really serious situation that happen so quickly and it’s coming back on the landlords,” Bates said. “It’s just the cost of doing business and as tough as it is now, this just makes it worse.”
The amendment came about after Police Chief Thomas Pozza told council that state and federal funds for dismantling and removing labs are drying up – and someone has to pay that cost.
“As part of the Summit County Drug Unit, when we raid a house for meth … a company called Chempak comes in and takes away the dangerous chemicals, at a cost of $1,000 to $2,000,” Pozza said. “Summit County Drug Unit would pay the Chempak bill, but it’s getting too expensive” and funds will soon be disappearing.
That means Chempak will soon be sending its bills to the city.
“I, as a taxpayer, shouldn’t be responsible for paying for cleanup costs. It’s not fair to taxpayers, the police department or the city,” Pozza said. “In essence, when Chempak hands us the bill, we will turn around and hand it to the property owner.”
At-large Councilwoman Kathy Hummel is one of three council members who own rental properties in the city. She voted in favor of the amendment – even though the chance exists it could cost her money down the road.
“I don’t think it’s fair for taxpayers to pay for these costs … those cleanups are very expensive,” Hummel said. “No landlord rents to a drug dealer knowingly. None of us walk into this. We’re as much a victim as the neighbors are.”
She said the other side of the coin is that tenant-landlord laws in Ohio “are very friendly to tenants, not landlords. If I found out there was a drug dealer in my property, I don’t know how difficult it would be to get them evicted. So I have that onus, then the onus of paying cleanup costs if (a tenant is) a meth dealer.”
Bates, a longtime landlord, said the Falls Landlord Council has had training sessions on the seriousness of the problem, how to identify a lab and what to do if they find one.
“It all happens very quickly and it’s very hard to catch it. If a tenant is growing marijuana, it takes a bit of time and you’d have a chance to discover it. But the very nature of a meth lab is a clandestine operation, very easy and quick to set up,” Bates said.
He said even the most diligent landlord could get the surprise of finding a meth lab in their property.
“We do proper background screening of our tenants as best we can, trying to decline those with criminal backgrounds. But oftentimes these things happen when friends and relatives come in without the landlord’s knowledge,” he said.
Bates knows of a few landlords that have been saddled with meth lab cleanup costs. “It comes right out of their pockets. Insurance, in general, will not cover a problem like this. It’s not as if you’ve had a fire and insurance will cover the damages,” he said.
Pozza said there have been 10 meth lab raids this year in Cuyahoga Falls; nine of them were in houses, while the remaining lab was in a car (Another mobile meth lab was in Cuyahoga Falls).
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