Is that a drug house in my neighborhood?

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

Question

We live in a generally nice neighborhood, but I've noticed some suspicious activities in the house across the street. People seem to come in and out at all hours. I’m not sure who owns the home, but I always see different people. I have heard rumors that it’s a popular place to buy drugs. This really brings down the character of the neighborhood. What do I do?

Answer

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. Such spots, in addition to being illegal, can bring down property values and be a serious concern for residents with children in the area.

There are a few things to consider, if you believe you are living near such a location. First of all, remember that 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.

Having said that, 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 your neighbor’s door to engage in a good-faith neighborly negotiation, and ask if he would mind not using his home to sell illegal substances.

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

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.

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.

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. For more on this, see Nolo’s article,  “Class Actions (Group Lawsuits) in Small Claims Court.”

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