“So you rented out a meth house”

Micah Lang writes in The Outline about her old college roommate, who’s gotten into landlording:

The ranch was an investment, intended to be the site of a great 50-year adventure, and the couple decided to maintain their old house an hour up the road from the main property as a rental to serve as a source of extra income. Recently, however, they became embroiled in a kind of labyrinthine domestic horror story when their tenants discovered, to everyone’s shock, a meth pipe under the rental house’s stovetop. The tenants, a young couple, discovered the small pipe — a clear glass tube with a chip on one end — while they were cleaning. The stove had been in the house when Brian and Kara bought it; there was no way of knowing when the pipe got there, if it was smoked out of, and if so, when.

I think we can safely assume it was smoked out of, because the alternative is that someone stashed it just in case they ever decided to start using drugs.

“If I had found the pipe myself, I probably would have tossed it in the trash and never given it much thought,” Kara said. The tenants were worried, though — they’d also found some crumpled foil and burnt sticks along with the pipe. They threatened to sue Kara and Brian for failing to find the pipe before they did.

And so Kara and Brian’s nightmare began. Colorado law says that if you suspect meth use or production by evidence of paraphernalia at a specific property, you must have it tested for residual traces of the drug, and must have it cleaned if the test shows levels above the state cutoff. If an owner does not have the property cleaned, they are subject to fines and even criminal charges.

And the testing and cleaning cost a small fortune. Cleaning isn’t that complicated unless the house is saturated with meth residue – a similar story from Longmont, Colorado describes the process, and the most complicated step is wiping surfaces down with peroxide – but probably because it’s both regulated and mandated by regulations, the costs can be several months to a year’s median income.


RTWT for details, but be warned: this story contains no sympathetic and trustworthy characters. Reading through this story as a lifelong renter irritated me.

First, Kara and Brian. The Outline is kind to them (college roommate, remember), but they’re landlords, so there’s an above-average chance that they’re bastards. And how long did they own that stove without cleaning under the stovetop? And they had the place professionally cleaned, allegedly, before renting it out?

On second thought, though, I’ve had a stovetop without cleaning under it for a good long while, because I didn’t cook with a lot of grease and I wasn’t trying to satisfy health-code inspectors. And a lot of “professional cleaning” is indeed that superficial.

Let’s move on to the tenants, because if this story is at all accurate, they can get fucked. Threatening to wield deadly force against their landlords because they suspected trace amounts of some relatively common chemicals is indefensible. And yes, “Imma sue you” is backed by the threat and application of deadly force.

But the real villains of the story are the creatures who claim to rule the state of Colorado.

I’m trying to post this in the hour or so my work schedule allows, so I don’t have time to dig into the arguments around the creation of Colorado’s meth-cleaning rules, but I strongly suspect that the intent was to create just this scenario – for the discovery that a prior resident once smoked meth to mean potential ruin for the current property owner.

A lot has changed since the Drug War’s heyday – a lot of people pity or scorn druggies, but not a lot of them viscerally fear drugs. People fear financial liability, though, and these regulations give property owners an incentive to see otherwise harmless drug users as a threat to their homes or livelihoods.

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