Overcoming Drug Problems in Multifamily Housing

Article excerpt

For fiscal year 1992, President Bush has asked Congress to appropriate $11.7 billion for the "War on Drugs." Yet, despite massive spending at federal, state, and local levels, drug problems persist relatively unabated. It is clear that no immediate solution is at hand. While the debate continues on long-term answers, the potential for human tragedy and business failure mandates that initiatives be taken.

Today's real estate managers hold a unique position in the war on drugs. A combination of social, legal, and business considerations necessitate that they assume a position of leadership with this national problem.

The essence of the problem

Successful housing communities consistently must attract prospects who pay rent on time, do not damage the property, and do not unduly disturb their neighbors.

The use and sale of illegal drugs at a property deters good prospects from applying. If drug problems are not effectively addressed, these prospective renters will look elsewhere for housing, good tenants may leave, and one of the characteristics of distressed housing will emerge. However, eliminating drugs at a property is not easy. Property managers must have a plan.

Requirements of a

drug prevention plan

A sound drug prevention plan should establish written policies on illegal drug activity on a property and indicate dear penalties for violations. In addition, a Prevention program must provide the procedures for enforcing these policies. Policies should be applied to both tenants and employees.

Management should establish what activities are considered in violation of the policy and what penalties are provided (e.g., denial of occupancy, termination or suspension of employment). If an employer provides counseling for employees with substance abuse problems, this should be addressed.

A drug policy also should assert specifically that employees at the site level are not expected to discharge any responsibility that normally falls within the purview of established law enforcement This language could also prove important should an employee be injured while acting without the consent or direction of management.

In developing a policy, ensure that: * Each prospect or current resident is required to meet the same standard. * New and existing employees make a commitment to eradicate drugs, both personally and among residents. * All of the site managers and leasing agents receive specific training on spotting violations and enforcing policies.

* Tenants are convinced all rules and regulations will be enforced.

Selection fairness

Because all properties depend on "good tenants," the plan's preparation should begin with an objective review of the company's tenant selection criteria. Procedures such as police checks and home visits may or may not prove feasible. If implemented, it is important that policies of this nature should be established on a city or state jurisdictional basis and not project by project.

Legal counsel should be consulted to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Treating tenants differently on the basis of property location or tenant profile may be challenged as discriminatory.

An anti-drug program plan cannot abridge any civil rights or fair housing laws. Discriminatory conduct, regardless of how noble the intent, may lead to legal actions. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 allows managers to ask all applicants "whether or not [they] have been convicted of the illegal manufacture or distribution of controlled substances." As long as all applicants are asked about prior drug convictions and all those convicted are denied housing, managers may be able to strengthen their anti-drug programs by excluding some undesirable tenants.

Before a new resident executes a lease, management's policy regarding drug violations should be clearly explained, both orally and in writing. …