Sniffing out meth makers
Duluth landlords and social workers meet with experts
to learn how to protect their property and people.
BY CHRIS HAMILTON
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF
Orrie, a former methamphetamine dealer and user for 26
years, is now a local properties manager. When it
comes to signs of meth use by tenants, she knows what
to look for.
the firsthand expert -- who's been clean seven years
-- learned some tips Wednesday on how landlords can
ferret out the presence of the highly addictive
stimulant on their properties.
Housing Access Center brought together about 50 Twin
Ports landlords, human services providers and real
estate agents with law enforcement and housing experts
as well as recovering addicts Wednesday at First
United Methodist Church to discuss how to approach
FOCUS ON DETECTION
the day was geared toward discovering users before
they severely damage properties with the toxic
household chemicals used to make the form of speed.
County has averaged finding eight meth labs a year,
said Brian Poppenberg, a lab cleanup expert for the
county. Those numbers remain on pace despite a law
that went into effect in January that requires people
to show identification and sign their name when they
buy cold medications containing key meth ingredients.
she appreciated advice on surprise visits from
Poppenberg. Landlords should inform tenants in the
lease that they plan to visit the property unannounced
-- or at least knock on the door -- on a regular
basis, Poppenberg told the group Wednesday. Landlords
still must provide a 24-hour notice to go inside.
Hendrickson, a housing expert in Hibbing, said she was
there in part to humanize the drug's users and
victims. Her 26-year-old daughter, Alyssa Hendrickson,
shot in the head in 2003 in Minneapolis by a friend
who'd been drinking and taking meth.
"Meth is a
horrible, horrible drug, but my daughter was a
wonderful person," Jayne Hendrickson said.
violence it often incites, meth wreaks havoc on
property used for its manufacture.
pound of the drug cooked up in homemade batches, up to
7 pounds of combustible and corrosive hazardous waste
is left over. The vapors and acids can kill and leave
properties so contaminated they must be gutted or
insurance companies won't cover the costs, said Lt.
Tim Harkonen of the St. Louis County Sheriff's
Department in Hibbing.
HELP FOR LANDLORDS
landlord, who didn't want to be named for fear of
reprisals, said she tried to get renters evicted from
her Central Hillside home based on hearsay comments
about dealing. The judge threw it out.
next three months she and her neighbors videotaped up
to 40 people a day coming in and out of the house. The
next time she came before the judge with the tapes, he
deputies arrived to enforce the eviction, she said
they confiscated drugs and addicts crawled out of
Videotaping criminal renters could be dangerous,
Harkonen warned. So what can a landlord do?
• Do a real criminal
background check on everyone living in an apartment.
Often a place is rented by a front person, who quickly
turns around and allows dealers and cooks to move in.
• If illegal drugs are
found, landlords have the right to kick out their
tenants ("If you can't prove it, it didn't happen,"
• Check Dumpsters for
discarded chemicals and other waste, like a bunch of
Sudafed boxes. It takes 25,000 tablets to make a pound
• Look beyond the
obvious. Meth cooks -- as the drug's rudimentary
chemists are called -- can now make their product look
like Skittles or M&Ms.
addition, landlords should look for:
• Windows covered with
blankets, black plastic or aluminum foil.
• Lots of surveillance
• Dark stains in the
bathtub or kitchen.
• A swirling chemical
burn on carpets.
suspiciously dying on one section of the property.
who makes a small batch of meth once in a home
probably won't contaminate it, Poppenberg said. But
there are no hard-and-fast rules about exposure once a
bust has occurred.
wallboard, ceiling tiles, upholstery, carpeting,
forced-air heating systems and drain traps usually
must be replaced. Just the required contamination
evaluation by a professional contractor can cost
between $1,500 and $2,500.
Another law that went into effect this year tags a
meth home on its title in the register of deeds. That
notice can't be removed until licensed contractors
clean the property to a satisfactory level, Poppenberg