Meth EXPLOSION

By Richter, Allan | Journal of Property Management, January/February 2006 | Go to article overview

Meth EXPLOSION


Richter, Allan, Journal of Property Management


Surge in methamphetamine use leaves property managers with physical, legal and financial mess

When North Carolina authorities raided a 300-unit apartment complex in Charlotte, N.C., and arrested a resident for producing the highly noxious drug methamphetamine, the dwelling's fee manager was faced with a legal and health entanglement that months later still has not abated.

"We had no idea this was going on," said Adam Ford, vice president of operations at Crosland Inc., the raided property's fee manager. "Like a lot of issues, you don't pay particular attention to the details until you have to, and that was very true in this case. We didn't know how to deal with this right out of the gate."

As the use of methamphetamine-commonly referred to as meth-increases across the country, more property managers are faced with challenges relating to the drug, particularly the financial, legal and health implications stemming from meth labs being set up and dismantled on their properties.

An explosive problem

Apartment complexes, hotels and other sites attracting transients are havens for the growing meth problem: Half of all clandestine meth labs are found on rental properties, according to information from the National Multi Housing Council and National Apartment Association.

"Meth labs are portable and they can be small, so an apartment is an easy place to hide them," said Barbara Vassallo, the National Apartment Association's vice president for government affairs. "In an apartment, you're kind of unknown. There's a level of privacy involved."

Nationally, the number of meth labs seized by federal officials rose from 6,700 in 1999 to more than 9,900 in 2004, according to data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The drug reaches far beyond the borders of its western, rural origins, and it knows few demographic or economic limitations.

"Anyone who has a recipe and some lab equipment can manufacture it, so there's the potential to make a lot of it," Vasallo said. "[Meth] is a hot drug on the streets, and it's addictive after the first use."

Meth users can snort, smoke, inject intravenously or orally ingest the drug for a hit.

Ford, the North Carolina property management executive, said he was surprised a meth lab was operating at one of his company's higherend, more upscale apartment complexes. He declined to identify the property.

"This was one of our A' properties," Ford said. "In the media, I think the majority of reports have been out of rural areas. Our perception was that this was a lower-income demographic issue. It's probably more our perception than perhaps reality that it's an issue for lower-income people."

Detecting meth

Despite the speed with which meth has spread-and all the publicity surrounding it-many property managers are still unfamiliar and unprepared to detect and deal with the drug.

"Our members have not necessarily been instructed what to do," Vasallo said. "It's not as though there are drug dealers on the corner [with] bags of coke. It's something that's much more clandestine. There aren't a lot of signs there is criminal activity going on, so it takes a property owner by surprise."

Regardless of the concealed nature of cooking meth, property managers can look for signs of meth use on their properties. "Cooking" meth-also called crystal meth, ice and glass, among other names-involves the assembly of readily accessible household goods, like lithium batteries, coffee filters and aluminum foil.

Some of its ingredients-pseudophedrine, ethyl and grain alcohol, paint thinner, vinegar and cooking oil and others-are just as common and seemingly innocent. But when cooked, the combination of ingredients creates volatile compounds that can explode.

Strong odors like the smell of ether, ammonia, acetone, other chemicals or the strong scent of fuel are clues meth production is taking place, according to information provided by the Boulder County, Colo. …

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