Illegal drug activity in homes
Residential illegal drug activity is cause for concern for tenants, owners, property managers and real estate agents alike due to potential health and safety risks to occupants. Of primary concern are houses — mostly rental properties — that have been used to manufacture, grow or smoke illegal drugs.
Clandestine laboratories (clan labs) are places where illegal drugs (commonly methylamphetamine, or “meth”) are secretly manufactured, often in an unsafe manner. Criminal producers often use rental properties, although they also use commercial properties, remote rural properties and hotel and motel accommodation. Drug residues and waste chemicals can be absorbed into the building structure and furnishings.
Cannabis grow houses are properties (often rentals) extensively modified to grow large crops of cannabis hydroponically. Structural damage and mould infestation can result.
Smoke houses are residences in which illegal drugs such as meth, heroin and cannabis, are smoked regularly but not manufactured. Generally drug residues in these properties tend to be much lower than those used for manufacture.
Clan labs can pose a number of risks to human health, including exposure to the production residue of meth and also from toxic and/or flammable gases used in its manufacture. While the police may remove the raw chemicals and equipment from a property, contaminant residues can be absorbed into the building structure and furnishings.
If the buyer or tenant of a property becomes ill from exposure to a known former clan lab or smoke house, the real estate agency and owner could be at risk of legal action.
Pleading ignorance is unlikely to be sufficient to avoid proceedings.
Real Estate Agents and Property Managers
Consumer Protection regards the non-disclosure of known serious health hazards as a breach of the Real Estate and Business Agents and Sales Representatives Code of Conduct 2016 (the Code). This includes any harmful chemical residue left at a residential property due to it having been used as a clan lab.
Under the Code, real estate agents are required to ascertain material facts about any property they list. While determining what constitutes a material fact may depend on the particular circumstances, a property’s previous use as a clan lab is likely to be a material fact given it may affect a prospective buyer/tenant’s decision to purchase/rent the property.
While agents and property managers cannot disclose what they don't know, they must take due care in ascertaining material facts about any property or business they sell or rent.
Private landlords have a responsibility to ensure their property is safe and clean for future occupants. If tenants become ill from the effects of a clan lab, they may lodge a claim for compensatory damages.
Landlords may choose to adopt a precautionary cleaning regime for all new tenancies as a routine measure.
If the landlord believes or suspects that there has been a clan lab or smoke house at the property, they are required to undertake the necessary cleaning before leasing.
Detecting and Managing Contamination
As a general practice, owners, managers and agents should be alert to any illegal drug activities that may affect a property under their care. The routine inspection or engagement process with tenants is a great way to check for signs of questionable activity.
Tenants should contact their landlord or property manager if they’re concerned that a property has been contaminated by illegal drug activity. If a tenant is unhappy with the response from their landlord or property manager, they should contact their local government authority (LGA) or the Department of Health (DOH).
The DOH and LGA determine whether properties are fit for human habitation and can order upgrades at the owner’s expense. This includes decontaminating a former clan lab property to ensure it is cleared for habitation.
For more information about identifying and managing illegal drug contamination, see the DOH document Illegal Drug Activity in Homes: Managing Risk - A Guide for Occupants, Landlords, Property Managers and Agents.
If a clan lab is detected at a property, owners or their agents should follow the information outlined in the DOH document: Guidelines for Notification and Risk Management after Detection of a Clandestine Drug Laboratory. This comprehensive document outlines the appropriate processes and procedures to address any health risks associated with clan labs.
Options for tenants and buyers
Tenants who reside at a property they believe was formerly used as a clan lab, grow house or smoke house have a range of options open to them. Should the premises be deemed uninhabitable and the tenant wants to end the agreement, the period of notice can be no less than two days. This applies to both periodic and fixed-term tenancies.
A tenant can also seek an order from the Magistrates Court to end a fixed-term agreement if the lessor has not kept to any one of the terms of the tenancy agreement and refuses to fix the problem.
When a tenancy ends section has plenty of information on ending a tenancy and how to issue the appropriate notices. You may also call our advice line on 1300 304 054 if you require more information on your rights.
If you are a tenant or the buyer of a residential property and you believe a real estate professional intentionally failed to disclose that the property was used as a clan lab or is contaminated with drug residue, you may choose to lodge a complaint with Consumer Protection.
Access the following resources for more detailed information:
- Illegal Drug Activity in Homes: Managing Risk A Guide for Occupants, Landlords, Property Managers and Agents – Department of Health guide to identifying and managing illegal drug contamination in residential properties in order to reduce the risk of exposure to occupants
- Healthy WA – consumer information about illicit drug activities and residues in homes
- WA Police – recognising and reporting clandestine drug laboratories
- Chemcentre – information about clandestine laboratories
- Western Australia Department of Health – technical and consumer information about clandestine drug laboratories
- Australian Government – information about medicinal cannabis cultivation and manufacture
Reporting suspected illegal activity
If you suspect a property is being used for illegal purposes contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online.
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