Tenant Drug-Screening an Option 

Tenant Drug-Screening an Option 
Posted by FoM on February 17, 2000 at 11:35:51 PT
By Robin Franzen of The Oregonian Staff 
Source: Oregon Live
Police estimate at least three-quarters of all drug activity occurs on rental properties, sometimes with disastrous results for unsuspecting property owners and neighbors. John E. Bissell, a former California undercover narcotics investigator who now runs a Portland drug-screening lab, thinks he might be able to help landlords keep drug criminals out of Portland's 89,000 rental units. 
He recently began testing the waters to see if landlords wary of illegal drugs would add a new step to tenant-screening procedures: drug screening, using the same substance-abuse detection process employers use to detect cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine in potential employees. Bissell, president of Analytical Laboratory Systems Inc., says it's been tried in Florida with success and could work in Portland, where the hot line at the police Drugs and Vice Division rings as many as 50 times a day with tips from people who suspect their neighbors of dealing and manufacturing narcotics. Forty-three meth labs, many in rentals, were discovered in Portland in the last year alone. Few, if any, private landlords use drug-screening in Portland, for reasons of cost and privacy. But Bissell said that by investing $20 to $30 in such a test, landlords could protect themselves and their property from bad tenants in two ways: The threat of a positive result will keep most drug criminals from applying. And if they do apply and test positive for illegal substances, the landlord can reject them without further consideration, he said. Bissell, who considers it his mission to "dry up the drug market" by forcing abusers to quit so they can get housing and employment, said the first-round screening his company provides takes about 10 minutes to produce a result and is accurate in the high-90-percent range. Negative tests give the landlord an immediate green-light to rent. All positive tests are sent to another certified lab for confirmation, which Bissell said has a reliability of 100 percent and can turn around results in 24 hours. Those results are reviewed again by a medical officer, who investigates to determine whether the positive result could have been caused by a legal substance such as a prescription drug. Property experts say it's legal for landlords to require a drug test of prospective tenants, provided they require it of all prospective tenants so as not to discriminate. But not everyone agrees that drug screening is the answer. "There are already so many less-invasive things that landlords could do to keep drugs out," said John Campbell, a nationally known rental consultant who educates landlords about drug activity. Checking prospective tenants' criminal backgrounds costs as little as $20 per tenant. They also can call references, verify employment and ask to see the applicant's photo identification. Unfortunately, Campbell said, landlords desperate to fill their vacancies in a soft rental market don't use those basic screening methods as often as they should; that's why some end up with their properties in ruins after drug criminals have gotten a hold of them, sometimes converting their interiors into clandestine labs and elaborate marijuana-growing operations. Campbell estimates that only one-quarter of all landlords effectively screen potential tenants using the standard methods. "The real question is, are good tenants going to want to do this?" Sharon Fleming-Barrett, a property management consultant and president of the Oregon Rental Housing Association, said she had serious concerns about the accuracy and expediency of the tests and about whether they were a realistic tool for Portland landlords, many of whom are "mom and pop" property managers rather than professionals. "In this soft market, most landlords are not going to wait for that kind of test, no matter how at-risk they might feel," she said. Some landlords may also worry that denying someone's rental application based on a positive drug test could open them up to a lawsuit. Bissell, who provides testing for commercial drivers and other federally mandated programs, and who regularly serves between 100 to 200 companies, still thinks the idea of landlord drug-screening has merit. He recommends landlords use a neutral party to test prospective renters rather than using "do-it-yourself" kits to prevent the appearance of bias. For more information about drug screening, call Analytical Laboratory Systems at 503-827-7900.Robin Franzen can be reached at: 503-221-8133 or at robinfranzen Published: Thursday, February 17, 2000 2000 Oregon Live.Related Articles:Court Allows Evictions of Tenants Unaware Says Pot Growers Must Go, Sober 69-Year-Old Faces Eviction for Drugs CannabisNews Drug Testing Archives:
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on February 17, 2000 at 12:34:06 PT
I knew this was coming
What next? P*ssing for your daily bread? 'Micturating' (no lie, this is the Feds term for peeing) for medical benefits?This is going to become a major issue in the next few months. The testing industry has taken it on the chin recently when a government study essentially stated that it does not work. So now they are desperately seeking ways of securing their continued livelihood. Preying on the forfeiture-fearful landlords is but another way of maintaining themselves.But it will backfire. Why? Because the economic times are a-changin'. For example; many of the Information Technologies companies I deal with *don't* do testing. Why? because they are starved for real talent. Hell, they're willing to bring in *foreigners* with the skills they need, and pay their way here. And that talent can sometimes have a very high price tag. A lot of times, the matter of post-employment testing comes up, and the techies will say, 'If they don't trust me, I sure won't trust *them*'. The next thing the company knows, they are out the door. And the company has just lost major time and funds to train the guy. And employers are listening, you betcha they are. Because good people *are* hard to find. Because they *know* that to intrude into a productive person's private life is to indicate mistrust. And that person can and will go elsewhere. So a lot of companies don't even bother with pre-employment testing. It took them a while to realize what was happening, but many have.The same with these landlords. They will soon learn that it is a buyer's market. And the buyers won't stand for it. The upper-scale tenants they seek to attract will go to a renter that *doesn't* think they have God-given right to know what is floating around any given person's bloodstream. The smarter ones will drop this like it's radioactive; the dimmer ones will think they can do it until the red ink starts to rise on their ledgers.
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