A 44-year old man will be charged in court today, for growing marijuana at his flat in Yishun. Wow, this sort of thing really is just an ordinary Wednesday in Yishun (the Bermuda Triangle of Singapore). But the whole situation should give landlords – anywhere in Singapore – some pause for thought:
What has this got to do with landlords?
If you think a tenant wrecking the stove is a major disaster, wait till you realise what happens when tenants are drug dealers or abusers (or are handling contraband of any kind, in fact). A tenant dealing drugs is an 11 out of 10 on the rental disaster scale; the kind that leads to getting a new property agent and a new Xanax prescription.
While a well-written Tenancy Agreement (TA) specifies that the landlord can kick out such tenants, it doesn’t solve all the surrounding issues. For example:
- Risk of property damage by users
- Delays in being able to rent out again
- Being mistaken as a collaborator
- Their criminal associates can come to your property
1. Risk of property damage by users
Drug dealers / abusers will trash your house.
The abusers (those who use rather than sell) are often walking disasters. If contractors could spot drug dealers, they’d retire rich in a week. A simple example: damaged furniture from someone smoking drugs. When smokers get high, they let the ashes drop anywhere; that includes rugs and furniture. And they’re more likely to stub out their joint on your floor or wooden dining table.
And if they’re on more serious drugs, like methamphetamine, you’d better hope they don’t fling your dresser off the balcony.
If the tenant is, say, growing and selling marijuana, they often need to find a good hiding place. Mr. Yishun didn’t do a great job of that (there were instructions on the wall explaining how to grow the plants); but the smarter ones are more destructive. They cut holes in partitions to hide their stash, or slice apart furniture linings to hide bags of powder.
When they do get caught, the search of your house can end up costing thousands in damages.
Also, let’s not get into how much of the house they can damage dragging in bags of soil, hydroponic equipment, and so forth.
2. Delays in being able to rent out again
If the tenant’s caught dealing drugs, there’s a whole investigation that follows. That could mean the property you rented to them has to be thoroughly searched; and you don’t know how long the process will take.
It may just be a day; but it could also be a week or more; it depends on how the situation progresses. In the meantime, you’re stuck wondering when you’ll be able to find a replacement tenant – on top of the time taken to fix any damage (see point 1).
3. Being mistaken as a collaborator
The worst case scenario is, of course, being considered some sort of collaborator or co-conspirator. Now most of these tenants don’t sign long leases, as they want to move around to minimise detection; but if they’ve been renting from you for two to three years, the authorities might be curious as to why you didn’t know.
You also don’t know how drug dealers react when they’re caught – they might claim the stash isn’t theirs, and that it was left there by the previous tenant. Or maybe left there by you. Even if you do clear it up, the process can be stressful, time consuming, and involve several changes of underwear following police questioning.
4. Their criminal associates can come to your property
A lot of the people who buy or sell drugs associate with other criminal elements (shocking, we know). That can bring an angry buyer banging on the door at midnight; or a seller come to the house to collect payment.
Don’t mistake this as being on par with, say, a loan shark problem. Drug addicts are more desperate for their fix than a loan shark is for cash, and they don’t have the same boundaries Likewise, drug dealers who collect payment are on a whole different level of dangerous; these aren’t people who stop at putting glue in locks, or splashing paint, or any of the other tactics more suited to a rowdy Primary 2 class.
What we’re saying is your condo security guard, with a thermos and a rolled-up copy of The Straits Times ,won’t deter these people.
So what can you do to prevent this?
There are a couple of signs you can look out for. These are:
- A spike in utilities If someone is growing marijuana plants, cooking drugs, etc., you’ll often see unusually high utility bills. Don’t ignore it, call and find out why.
- Cash payments In general, be a little suspicious of anyone who wants to pay in cash (especially large amounts upfront, like two years lease all at once, as it means they want you to stay away). Cash makes the payment less traceable.
- The property doesn’t seem really occupied The tenant may rarely be in, or may only drop by the property once in a blue moon. This, combined with a spike in utility bills, is always a suspicious sign.
- Excessive use of ventilation You may see a lot of large, powerful fans and odour prevention devices when you do a spot check. This is often used to mask the scent of anything the tenant wants to hide (e.g. the smell of pot).
While these situations are rare in Singapore, don’t assume they’ll never happen to you. As a landlord, stay alert and protect your investment. If someone can do this in a flat in Yishun, it’s doubly possible to do it in a private condo, or rented bungalow.
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