For Renters, a Drug Test Before Signing Lease 

For Renters, a Drug Test Before Signing Lease 
Posted by FoM on November 05, 2000 at 08:56:05 PT
By Don Babwin, Associated Press
Source: Washington Post
The way Charles Poole remembers it, the Bryn Mawr apartments used to be a full-service building--if the services you were looking for involved drugs and prostitutes. Outside its doors was what amounted to an open-air drug store. And inside, right behind the front desk, one woman ran her own little side business, finding customers dope and hookers.
These days Poole, 79, says he sees none of that. And a big reason, he says, is the test for illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana that everybody, from teenagers right up to a white-haired retired accountant who needs a cane to get around, must pass before they're allowed to move into the building and keep passing once a year to stay."To me, it's that much more of a guarantee that we do have a drug-free building," he said of the drug testing implemented more than a year ago by Holston Management Corp. after it bought and rehabilitated his building and two others. "I think it's great."It's also rare.The same company requires the tests of tenants in three of its Chicago buildings--one across the street from the Bryn Mawr. And the testing has been required since 1994 at an apartment complex in Cleveland, but nobody in the organization that owns that property knows of any other apartment buildings that have followed its lead.In both cities, the testing--paid for by property owners, not the tenants--was implemented in areas known for soaring crime rates and illegal drug use."This was a property with a history of terrible problems," said Tom Slemmer, the president of National Church Residences, an Ohio-based nonprofit provider of affordable senior and family housing that began testing for drugs at Summerwood Commons in the Cleveland suburb of Euclid after it bought the property. "There were suspicious murders on the site that were drug-related. The building had been shut down and fenced."In Chicago, the story was the same."Dealers would be banging on doors all night and you couldn't leave, take a vacation [for fear of] someone breaking into your apartment," said Louis McDonald, 56, a resident of the Bryn Mawr.What Holston Management didn't want when it bought the three buildings, the first in 1997, was to pump in millions of dollars only to watch them fall into disrepair again.Neither did the people who lived in and around the buildings.The Bryn Mawr and the Belle Shore "were like cancers in the neighborhood," said Jerry Marcoccia, president of the Edgewater Beach Neighbors Association.Candice Howell, a Holston vice president, said, "When we went in there to do the first rehab, people in the community asked us, 'What are you going to be doing differently? How do you plan on screening [would-be tenants]?' "Holston officials asked the same questions. So the company decided that along with the background, credit and other checks, it would add a drug test.As in Ohio, where a lawyer told the building's owners that the tests were legal as long as everyone was tested, Howell said Holston officials quickly concluded that the fastest way to run into legal problems would be to single out people for the tests.For its part, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which enforces the Fair Housing Act, said such a policy is legal as long as it is enforced in an evenhanded manner.Still, even though everybody was tested, Matthew Roddy, Holston's executive vice president, expected a lawsuit. "We talked for five years of putting together a pool of funds" to fight a legal challenge. So far, that has not happened, in Chicago or Cleveland.Avery Friedman, a fair-housing attorney in Cleveland, thinks the rule is legally suspect. "It's illegal to deny housing because of a handicap," he said. "Chemical dependency is a handicap."And F. Willis Caruso Sr., a law professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago who also runs the school's fair-housing clinic, sees another problem."There are people with asthma and other disabilities who may be using controlled substances and it's perfectly legal," he said. "There is substantial risk of excluding somebody [from renting an apartment] with a disability."There is also another concern that Howell said she has heard raised, that the test targets poor people and minorities. Howell said that is nonsense."It angers me when something like a drug test comes up as an example of further violation of their rights," she said. "This is a policy aimed at people engaged in criminal activity. Period."Holston has used the tests to deny would-be tenants apartments and has refused to renew the leases of a handful of tenants who failed the tests after they moved in.While it's illegal to deny housing because of past drug use, said Sherri Kranz, the director of leasing at the Bryn Mawr and the Belle Shore, it is lawful to deny housing to those currently using illegal drugs. There is a medical review policy to ensure that people taking drugs for legitimate medical reasons are not denied housing, she added.Roddy, who said he's "absolutely shocked" the policy hasn't been challenged, nevertheless thinks there are a couple of other reasons for that not happening. In Chicago, for example, one way the city has cracked down on crime, including illegal drug use, is by holding property owners liable for the criminal behavior of residents and others on their property."If we went to court, we'd say, 'How can you hold us liable and not allow us to correct the problem?' " said Roddy.As for the tenants, many said they love the policy. Willie Skipper, 56, a tenant of the Midwest Apartments, takes his enthusiasm a step further."I don't tell anybody about the test," he said. "I don't want them to get themselves cleaned up long enough to get in there and start using again."Why then does the practice remain so rare?Steve Johnson, Midwest Apartments' property manager, said one reason is the cost of the tests. "Every test costs $25, and we test everyone in all our 276 units every year," he said. "So it is an expense."Roddy added that not every owner of property who rents to low-income residents spends millions of dollars to rehab their buildings. Other "absentee owners of substandard housing" are, he said, more concerned "about income and occupancy than . . . criminal activity and how the buildings are cared for."But Roddy said as word spreads about the success of the policy and about the completely occupied buildings and the long waiting lists of people hoping to live there, that will change."I think this is going to just mushroom in the affordable-housing industry," he said.Source: Washington Post (DC) Author: Don Babwin, Associated PressPublished: Saturday , November 4, 2000 Address: 1150 15th Street NorthwestWashington, DC 20071 2000 The Washington Post Company Contact: letterstoed washpost.comWebsite: CannabisNews Drug Testing Archives:
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Comment #1 posted by AOCP on November 05, 2000 at 10:20:26 PT:
>While it's illegal to deny housing because of past drug use, said Sherri Kranz, the director of leasing at the Bryn Mawr and the Belle Shore, it is lawful to deny housing to those currently using illegal drugs. There is a medical review policy to ensure that people taking drugs for legitimate medical reasons are not denied housing, she added.Gee, what a slippery slope we have here. Since drug tests do not indicate anything remotely close to "current" MJ use, how in the hell do they justify this? Ignorance and hate masquerading as public service? Get a grip, people. Oh, and don't worry, i won't be giving any of these moralizing d***heads my hard-earned cash. Y'all can rest assured that you won't have any "pro-drug" folk like me around your precious wannabe-utopia.Then again, i've often thought how much fun i could have if i just gave up on MJ completely. That is, i could be the most loud-mouthed proponent that couldn't be busted on testing, as i would have to stay clean. Jello Biafra once called it, "monkey-wrenching the New World Order". It would require a lot of sacrifice, but the rewards would sure be fun. :)
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