Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. There are more responses listed here than in the text where only those responses that have been evaluated through research are discussed. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Summary of Responses to Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes
ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
Enforcing a city ordinance or state law requiring owners to address conditions that foster drug markets on private propertyIncreases the owner's risk, and removes the owner's excuses for not addressing conditions facilitating the market…sanctions are part of the ordinance/law, and the city attorney or prosecutor is willing to proceedRequires local or state legislation
Sending a letter to the property owner from the police chiefRemoves the owner's excuse of ignorance, and increases the risk for ignoring the problemthe letter outlines legal responsibility and potential consequences for failure to act, as well as the value of improved management practices and environmental changes in eliminating drug marketsLetter must be based on state or city law requiring owner action
Supplying the owner with calls- for-service data for his or her property, and with comparison data for well-run nearby propertiesRemoves the owner's excuse that he or she was unaware of the problem and its extent, and underscores the need for the owner to improve management practicesused in combination with the above responsesIf the owner is "in cahoots" with the dealer then police must keep from the owner the names of those complaining to the police about the dealing
Meeting with the owner and outlining the costs associated with allowing drug dealing on the propertyRemoves the owner's excuse of ignorancethe owner is solvent, or community development housing upgrade loans are availableIn certain circumstances, the owner may perceive that the costs of making improvements may be higher for the owner than the financial costs associated with allowing the drug dealing
Establishing a landlord training program

John Campbell collaborated with the Portland (Ore.) Police Bureau to create and deliver the first police-sponsored landlord training curricula in the United States. Campbell, who fought a crack house (place where crack cocaine is sold and/or consumed) operating on his block, conducted intensive research, including interviews of property owners, and concluded, "Most landlords are not skilled in the prevention of illegal activity, but are willing to learn. [Property owners] prefer to act responsibly, but lack the tools to do so" (Sampson and Scott 2000 [Full text]). John Campbell can be reached through his web site at www.cdri.com.

Removes the owner's excuse of ignorancetailored to the laws within one's jurisdiction An apartment managers' association within the community may be able to offer the training.
Establishing a crime-free multi- housing program

For further information about the crime-free multi-housing program, contact the Mesa (Ariz.) Police Department at 480.644.2211.

Removes the owner's excuse of inability to address illegal activity, raises the owner's awareness of the legal consequences for failure to act, and provides incentives for the owner to operate a crime-free complextailored to the laws within one's jurisdiction, and the incentive to the owner is meaningfulAn apartment managers' association within the community may be able to monitor and manage the initiative.
Engaging an apartment managers' association to work with the owner to upgrade the owners property management skillsIncreases the risk to the owner for failing to remedy conditions at the property, and removes the owner's excuse that he or she does not know how to address or is unaware of the problemthe association is competent and well-regardedIt would be unfair to have an association deal with a property owner who is behaving criminally; the association should address only those cases in which the owner is not suspected of collusion
Running credit checks of prospective tenantsRemoves the excuse for tenant dealing, and weeds out drug dealers whose income is not reportedthe credit report also documents court- ordered evictions and past addresses of prospective tenantsMust be done in a nondiscriminatory way
Verifying prospective tenants' income sourcesEmployers are called (using phone numbers from the 411 directory, not from the prospective tenant). If the prospective tenant is self employed, copies of bank statements and tax returns are requested. This removes excuses for tenant dealingthe system is set up to verify the income of all potential tenantsMust be done in a nondiscriminatory way
Doing a criminal history check of all prospective tenantsRemoves excuses for tenant dealingan apartment owners' association has established a legal system for doing soSome jurisdictions permit this; others do not
Doing reference checks of prospective tenants' prior tenanciesCalls to prior landlords of a prospective tenant to ascertain if criminal activity was evident remove excuses for tenant dealing. For Section 8 renters, inquiries should be made to the local housing authoritythere is an apartment owners' association that facilitates doing soCalls to the tenant's current landlord may not yield any information; however, interviews of previous landlords might
Establishing a no-cash policy—the property owner does not accept cash for deposits or monthly rentPrevents those engaged in an illegal, cash-only business from residing at the propertythe owner establishes the policy in writingSome law-abiding people mistrust banks and pay only by cash
Adding a drug addendum to lease agreementsRemoves excuses and eases the eviction process by putting tenants on notice that drug activity will not be toleratedthe property owner enforces itState law may require that property owners give tenants notice of any new provisions to the lease
Conducting police surveillance from a vacant apartment in the complex or from another vantage pointRemoves the police or property owner excuse of lack of knowledge of the conditions that facilitate the marketthe surveillance focuses not just on the players, but also on the conditions that facilitate the market (e.g., parking, design, lack of natural surveillance)The vantage point from the apartment may not give police a full sense of the market
Surveying tenantsRaises the risk for dealers and buyers if tenants are willing to provide details about them, peak market times, and specific apartments or outdoor locations where dealing is occurringa plainclothes officer does the surveying and leaves a business card with a number that tenants fearful of being seen speaking to police can callIf tenants' primary language is not English, several translated versions of the survey may be needed
Having tenants document illegal activityLogs kept for use in civil and criminal court raise the risks to dealers and remove the criminal justice system's excuses concerning the chronic nature of the marketpolice can follow up, and the information is specific and useful enoughNeed to ensure that the sources of information are not discoverable in court
Preventing access to vacant apartments if they are used for dealing or taking drugsRemoves dealers' and users' excuse for being on the property, and increases the risk of a possession arrest because drugs have to be carried off the propertythe apartments are checked frequently for break-insBoarded-up apartments are not aesthetically pleasing
Posting "No Trespassing" signsRemoves buyers' and nonresident dealers' excuse for being on the propertythe property owner signs over the right to enforce to police and gives police an updated list of tenants' namesTime-consuming for the police; may need semi-constant maintenance if other remedies are not used in combination
Improving property access control and having restricted parking for tenantsRestricts buyers' and nonresident dealers' access to the property. Tenant-only parking deters buyers from entering the property in vehicles; eliminating visitor spots has a similar effect. Buyers have to scout for neighborhood parking, and are at increased risk because they have to leave the property on foot, with drugs on themtenants agree to the change and do not try to sabotage the systemFinancial costs
Establishing owner expectations for property management and security staffRemoves the staff's excuses that they are unaware of their responsibility in addressing illegal activity on the propertyexpectations are in writing and reflected in job descriptions and performance evaluationsShould be done in combination with other cited management practices
Having property management staff keep an in-house log of illegal activity on the propertyRemoves the owner's excuse of ignorance and provides documentation for evictionmanagement or police responses to the activity are also detailed in the logLog must be safeguarded from theft
Engaging the property mortgagor to prevent the property from losing its value because of entrenched drug dealing be legally allowedThe bank or lending agency (holding the mortgage on the property) is informed about the drug market and provided with data on calls for police service and arrests; criminal activity on the property removes the owner's monetary excuses for not actingthe mortgagor requires that the owner develop an improved safety security plan to address the drug marketDisclosure of information must
Enforcing codesRemoves the owner's excuses if code violations at the property facilitate the drug market, forces the owner to gain compliance, and increases the owner's financial risk if he or she does not complythe code enforcement agency understands that certain code violations facilitate drug markets, and is willing to assistShould use code enforcement nondiscriminatorily when targeting those conditions that facilitate the drug market
Detecting and arresting tenant drug dealersThe use of undercover buys and the issuance of search warrants for active drug apartments increase dealers' riskin an open market; in closed markets, police must have enough information to lawfully gain access to an apartmentOnce police gain lawful access, it may be appropriate to bring in other agencies such as health, codes, child or adult protective services, and animal control
Limiting potential buyers' ability to cruise through the area in search of open drug marketsRerouting and managing traffic, redesigning roads and dead-ending streets so they're inaccessible from main thoroughfares increase potential buyers' effort, and also increase their risk of getting caught by limiting the number of escape routesresidents are committed to redesign to eliminate dealingPotential inconvenience to residents
Prohibiting or limiting on-street parking"Resident-only parking" on the street outside of the apartment complex forces buyers to park and walk farther to access the market, and increases the risk to buyers because they must return to their vehicle with drugs in handresidents are committed to parking restrictions to eliminate dealingResidents with legitimate visitors may find this onerous
Using asset forfeitureForfeiture of cars or property used by dealers increases dealers' efforts and decreases their rewardsprosecutors are willing to apply the lawMust have a local, state or federal law authorizing it
Having legitimate tenants attend court hearings (court watch)Court watch at judicial hearings of dealers and buyers discourages the criminal justice system from treating drug dealing and use as only a personal harm or "victimless" crimemore than a few tenants attend, creating safety in numbers, and the judge tells the accused dealer or buyer that any retaliation will result in greater punishmentPotential intimidation of law abiding tenants
Using vertical prosecutionAssigning one prosecutor to all cases arising from the same apartment complex removes the excuse that the problem is not chronic, and increases the risk to an ongoing drug operationthe prosecutor's office is familiar with the use of vertical prosecutions, and judges are willing to approach caseloads this wayJudges may prefer random assignment of cases
Having the prosecution seek court-ordered, monitored treatment of chronic users who buy at the apartment complexAs a condition of probation or sentencing, raises users' risk through consistent monitoring and jail time if caught, and removes their excuse for being on the property, taking them out of the drug marketcombined with geographic probation to keep users away from the particular marketResource-intensive
Using surveillance camerasRaises the risk that dealers will be identified and caught, and potentially raises the risk of prosecution due to the strength of evidencecameras are bullet- resistant, dealers' identities are clear, and the evidence is usable in courtCost and monitoring of cameras
Enforcing tax lawsDecreases dealers' rewards through tax sanctions for unreported income or operation of an illegal businessfederal and state officials are willing to actThe criteria that must be met for state and federal authorities to intervene must be arranged in advance
Providing space for alternative legal activities on the propertyCounters or overrides the use of outdoor space for drug dealing, removes dealers' and users' excuse for being on the property, and increases the risk to dealers and users through increased natural surveillance of the premisestenants are involved in selecting activities and are willing to participateParticipants' safety
Launching an information campaign targeting buyers at the apartment complexInformation distributed to buyers concerning overdoses, chemicals used in cutting drugs, and the risk of arrest at the complex removes excuses and increases buyers' perception of risks; increases buyers' effort, as they have to search for less risky marketsinformation is available about the type of drugs sold at the complexDetermine who should distribute the information—the owner, police, law abiding tenants.
Having law- abiding tenants petition the property ownerPressures the owner to address the market conditions, removes excuses and decreases rewards if the owner fails to complytenants agree to all move out if the owner fails to take action within a certain amount of time, and this is stated in the petitionAvailability of other rentals at comparable pricess
Obtaining a temporary restraining order against the property ownerA court order restraining the owner from operating the property in a way that facilitates drug dealing, and requiring that the owner make management and environmental changes to address the market. Removes the owner's excuses, reduces rewards and increases the owner's risk if in noncompliancethe court is willing to apply the law this wayMay need to educate the court about the legality of doing so
Taking civil action for monetary damagesSeveral cities have a "Safe Streets Now" program in which residents of drug markets sue property owners in civil court for monetary damages caused by such things as the disruption of residents' peaceful enjoyment of their property. This approach reduces the reward for owners who allow activity at the expense of neighbors and their property values

"Safe Streets Now" programs operate in several cities, including San Diego. For more information, call 619.299.5408.

residents are trained and organized to follow throughSeed money for starting the program
Applying nuisance abatementPolice, tenants or neighbors file civil action against the property owner for nuisance abatement (temporarily or permanently taking the property away from the owner) if the owner fails to address conditions facilitating the drug market. Removes the owner's excuses for poor management and decreases the owner's rewardslocal government leaders are willing to follow through if police file the caseCity or state law must permit doing so
Taking civil action for foreseeable consequencesTenants bring civil tort action against the property owner, asserting the owner's liability for operating the premises in a way that is sure to cause them harm. The suit alleges the owner is responsible for providing security against foreseeable crimes. Removes the owner's excuses, increases the owner's risks and decreases the owner's rewards

To prove liability, a tenant must establish that (1) the property owner had a duty to provide reasonable security; (2) the property owner breached the duty; and (3) this breach of duty was the cause in fact and (4) was the foreseeable cause of (5) the tenant's injury or harm (Kennedy and Hupp 1998:25). Other civil actions might include those for maintaining a nuisance, causing loss of quiet enjoyment or inflicting emotional distress.

there are pervasive, repeat calls for service about drug dealing, and the owner fails to make needed changesEducating tenants about the law
Holding community antidrug marches at the property owner's homePotentially galvanizes community support to engage the owner in improving property management practices, and reduces the owner's rewardsorganized by tenantsIn some communities, there are anti-picketing ordinances that should be reviewed first
Getting media attention changesDraws media attention to the drug market and management practices if the property owner actively resists taking remedial action, and potentially reduces the rewards for owning property in the communityorganized by tenantsIf the owner complies and makes changes, the media should be invited back to show those