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Meth Labs: A Landlord’s Nightmare
by Annette West, CCIM, MBA, CPA
Imagine an environmental disaster waiting to happen in your rental property – a cooking process using caustic and flammable components, that at some stages produces the same gas used in concentration camps, creating an odorous reaction of chemicals and toxic fumes, brewed by people who usually do not have chemistry degrees…and you have the typical meth lab.
What is methamphetamine (meth)?
It is a man-made amphetamine that has prolonged effects on the central nervous system and is extremely addictive. It is made or cooked from common materials including over-the-counter cold medicine, solvents, acids and bases such as acetone, lye, Coleman fuel, hydrochloric or muriatic acid, iodine, etc., creating 5 to 7 pounds of chemical waste for each pound of meth manufactured.
Why should you care?
After a lab has been shut down, your property usually still is contaminated with hazardous chemicals. Long and short term health effects include liver and kidney damage, neurological problems and increased cancer risks, even for people living in former lab sites.
Also, the gases produced by the process are highly flammable, made worse by the fact that the lab is typically hidden in a sealed off room or a basement. A pilot light on your gas water heater could ignite the entire property.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects associated with meth labs.
What are some red flags or clues that your tenants are cooking meth?
According to Juan Moreno, Lieutenant and Special Agent in charge of Metro Narcotics for the Las Cruces Police Department, “Landlords should look for:
• A very distinct odor of ammonia or a chemical smell,
• Lots of plastic, glass or metal containers linked together with plastic tubing,
• Lots of packages of over the counter cold medicines, either empty or full.”
Other clues include covered or blacked-out windows and stained soil or dead vegetation which indicate chemical dumping.
What should you do if you see some of these red flags?
Call the police immediately. DO NOT try to remedy the situation yourself. Do not disturb the cooking process, chemicals or equipmen