The discovery of drug labs in Australia (particularly Queensland and Western Australia) is now a daily occurrence, with increasing numbers of these labs being found in rental properties. Stacey Holt of Real Estate Excellence, has been working on awareness for the industry since 2006.
In July, 2011, there was for the first time ever a National Meth Lab Conference to address a congress on behalf of the industry to discuss the issues, the fears, the reality and the future of Drug labs being found in property, particularly rental property. While the issue is prevalent in the US and in New Zealand, the number of clandestine drug labs in Australia is growing exponentially and is fast becoming a serious issue.
Given the seriousness of the toxic chemicals used to make the illicit drugs (such as speed, ice, ecstasy and amphetamine based drugs); iit creates a highly explosive and dangerous environment, and because of this, all property managers and salespeople need to be aware of general indicators and what to look for in relation to a drug lab being used at a property.
What you should look for
The following information has been provided to Real Estate Excellence by the Queensland Police for staff training, as some of the factors that may indicate the presence of a Meth or Drug lab in the property.
- Windows blackened out or extra efforts made to cover windows or reinforce doors
- Evidence of unusual electrical work surrounding the premises
- Fan or pump type noises
- Noticeable hoses and pipes near windows or doors for ventilation or water supply
- Installation of extractor fans (especially in garages/sheds)
- A new tenant that is willing to pay rent months in advance with only cash
- New applicants who try to avoid having background checks completed
- Residents who never put their rubbish out, or burn their trash
- Lab material surrounding property (butane fuel cans, stained coffee filters, clear glass jugs and duct tape).
- Inhabitants smoking outside – due to fumes
- Large plastic containers with, or without chemical labels
- Little or no traffic during the day, but lots of traffic at extremely late hours
- Recently rented premises where occupants are rarely there
- Laboratory glassware being carried into a residence (unusual glassware and excessive amounts of glassware)
- Strong smell that might resemble urine, or unusual chemical smell like ether, ammonia or acetone
- Dying grass or plants in a particular area.
What should you do if you are suspicious?
If you are suspicious of any unlawful drug related activity, you should contact crimestoppers immediately on 1800 333000, and then your local police station. Never enter a property if you suspect drug activity and always be mindful that your safety and security is the number one priority in any situation.
What about cleaning?
With the growing magnitude and seriousness of this alarming problem, the Federal Government released ‘national cleaning guidelines’ in recent months. Although these are only guidelines and not yet law (that is expected to come in the future), it is strongly recommended that landlords be advised to follow the cleaning and remediation guidelines should a drug lab be found in their rental property.
Cleaning and remediation is a big issue facing the industry not only because of the costs involved, but also the time taken to carry out the cleaning. There is no avoiding this, however, the risk of future litigation is extremely high should the guidelines not be followed. In fact, if a drug lab is found in a rental property managed by your agency, it is recommended that management be ceased if the landlord chooses to not follow the recommended cleaning guidelines.
Does insurance cover my landlords?
It is not yet clear if landlord protection companies will provide coverage for landlords should a lab be found in their property. Some of the major insurance companies have indicated that some coverage may be provided now for landlords under some types of landlord protection insurance;as to the actual extent of cleaning and remediation costs that will be provided under policies is not yet clear. Property managers and landlords may wish to make enquiries with their insurers to investigate their policy further.Cleaning and remediation costs are estimated to be in the thousands of dollars if the property is cleaned according to the National Guidelines.
According to the Australian Crime Commission, 449 clandestine drug labs were detected by police in Australia in 2008, 2009. Queensland has the biggest problem of all the states, (148 of the 449) labs detected in Queensland), however, Western Australia has the fastest growing number of labs each year. Clandestine labs detected on the west coast also tend to be more dangerous, as the manufacturers (‘cooks’) often use a cruder manufacturing method involving ammonia known as the “Nazi/Birch’ method.
Its important to remember that the above-mentioned 449 labs only refer to those that were detected by police, not the number that were in operation. It is assumed that only a small percentage of clandestine drug labs are ever busted by police, and even then approximately 90% of those detected are only found after police are called to the property for other reasons (domestic disturbance, explosion, etc).