Is That a Drug House in My Neighborhood? Now What?

Neighborhood violations of controlled substance laws are a serious matter, best left to law-enforcement authorities.

By , Attorney

Even if you live in a pleasant neighborhood, you might notice suspicious activities in a nearby house: people coming in and out at all hours, cars making brief stops. You might have even heard rumors that it's a popular place to buy drugs. This can make you feel unsafe, and start reducing your quality of life as well as property values. What do you do?

In many cities and suburbs, it is not uncommon to find an apartment or home that seems to be a central spot for sales or use of illegal substances. There are a few things to consider, if you believe you are living near such a location.

Don't Necessarily Believe the Rumor Mill

Not all rumors are true. Just because you've heard murmurings about a local home does not necessarily mean that illegal activities are actually occurring there. Unless you've personally seen drugs being sold with your own two eyes, proceed with caution. You would not want to make any false accusations about your neighbor, whether those accusations are made to his face, behind his back, or to law enforcement.

Mediation Probably Isn't an Option

You cannot realistically solve this conflict with a mediator between you and your neighbor, as is often suggested, since most mediators would refrain from involving themselves in a conflict where one party was clearly engaging in illegal activity.

When to Call Law Enforcement About a Drug House

If you witness truly suspicious activity over a long period of time, you should involve the authorities. This is one of the few instances of a neighbor dispute (another being a direct threat of violence) where you should not take matters into your own hands. You cannot realistically walk over to a neighbor's door to engage in a good-faith neighborly negotiation, and ask if the neighbor would mind not using the home to sell illegal substances.

Keep in mind that even once the police are notified, they will not arrest your neighbor. There will be a thorough investigation, to comply with due process, meaning that they will observe the area and potentially obtain a warrant to search the home for drugs. Only then would they be likely to arrest your neighbor.

Contacting Your HOA or Neighborhood Association or Local Government Agency

If you live in a common interest development (such as a condo) that is governed by a homeowners' or neighborhood association, you might first speak with your leadership there to report the problem.

If you do not have a neighborhood association, but do not want to call the police yourself, consider contacting a local representative on the city council or in the state legislature. Government offices are often willing to intercede on a resident's behalf to file a report with the police.

Consider a Class Action Lawsuit Against the Landlord (If Any)

If other measures aren't working, and you are willing to make your identity known to the perpetrators, and the house is a rental, here's another possibility to consider: Similarly frustrated homeowners have successfully banded together to sue landlords who rent to drug-selling tenants. They've used a legal theory known as nuisance (use of property that unreasonably interferes with others' rights) to claim damages for emotional and mental distress. Such a suit can potentially be brought in small claims court.

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