Put Maintenance Staff on Alert for Drug Operations

April 19, 2017
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If one of your management staff members suspects that a homeowner in your planned community is manufacturing illegal drugs, you’ll need to get a handle on the situation as soon as possible.

The best thing you can do long term is train your staff to recognize these drug operations so you can get a jump on shutting them down. With increasing frequency, methamphetamine production operations are routinely discovered across the country. And you might think that these drug operations are most common in low-rent communities, but that’s not always true. A shocking number of so-called “meth labs” have been discovered in planned communities or condominium buildings, even those dubbed “luxury” communities. Drug manufacturing can mean big profits for private individuals. But illegal drug activity, especially drug manufacturing in make-shift meth labs in units at your community, can be dangerous, even creating health issues with lasting effects. In some cases, homes that were the site of drug manufacturing have had to be torn down after their building materials had becoming toxic beyond remediation.

Don’t let your association or management company become liable for health issues that come up, which can happen even if you had no idea that drugs were being used, distributed, or manufactured in your community. One way to get a jump on solving this situation is to tell staff to look for warning signs, not search for evidence.

You don’t want to suggest that your maintenance staff should use an opportunity inside a member’s unit to actively search for signs of illegal drug activity, because that can be viewed as an invasion of privacy and can open you up to liability.

Instead, tell staff that they should be on the lookout for signs of illegal drug activity in “plain view,” but that they shouldn’t open drawers or closets or look under beds or anywhere else where a member would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Explain that items in plain view are things that can be seen without having to conduct an actual search for them—for example, a scale and bags filled with a white powdery substance on a kitchen counter.

Distribute a list of warning signs of drug sales and manufacturing. Include telltale signs of drug sales or manufacturing in a unit—for example, grow lights. If a unit is filled with special high-intensity lights, known as “grow lights,” this can be a sign that the person living there is growing marijuana. “Chemistry” setups are another sign. Methamphetamine and other drugs produced in crystal form are usually produced with what looks like an old chemistry set. Maintenance staff should look for items such as glass beakers, hot plates, glass cookware, funnels, coffee filters, and plastic tubing. These items will often be set up on bathroom or kitchen countertops, near sources of water and drains.

For more telltale signs of drug manufacturing in your community, and the next steps you should take, see “Using Management Staff to Uncover Drug Operations,” available to subscribers here