Who’s to blame when illegal activity happens in rental properties

One landlord says tenants and owner at fault

When illegal drug activity takes place in a rental property, who’s to blame– the landlord or the tenant?

Last week, a judge ruled to board up a drug house on the 200 block of South 24th Street in La Crosse. La Crosse police said it took them two years to shut it down because the owner of the property was being uncooperative.

The owner of any rental property is responsible for the tenant’s activity going on in and around the house or apartment. If police are contacted for any reason, the owner receives a phone call, so when illegal drug activity is taking place, one landlord says it’s just as much his fault as it is the tenants.

“To me they are investments,” said Tony Nehring, a landlord in La Crosse.

Nehring owns two properties in La Crosse and has been a landlord for almost a decade.

“We’ve just rented to college students,” said Nehring.

Nehring hasn’t had to deal with too much trouble because there are certain steps he takes when renting to tenants.

“The biggest thing in the first place is to do background checks and check with previous landlords and make sure they haven’t had any trouble with them,” said Nehring.

Once the property is rented, Nehring likes to keep an eye on things, not only for his tenants but for the neighbors as well.

“When I am over doing work on the property, kind of talk to the neighbors a little bit too to make sure everything has been quiet,” said Nehring.

You could say Nehring is a hands-on landlord, but it’s only because he knows what could happen if he wasn’t.

“If you allow illegal drug activity, your own property can become at risk,” said Joe Veenstra, an attorney with Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC, in La Crosse.

That is exactly what happened to one landlord on South 24th St. in La Crosse; due to continuous illegal drug activity, a judge ruled to shut it down. However, part of the blame falls on the owner of the property.

“If a landlord does learn about that type of activity, they should take steps to document it and get evidence of it,” said Veenstra.

So that if the landlord has to evict the tenants, it doesn’t turn into a he said/she said situation.

“I’ve had many cases where the landlords allege illegal activity and the tenant denied it, but all it is is one person saying one thing and one person saying another,” said Veenstra.

If something illegal is going on in a property, Nehring believes it’s just as much the landlord’s fault as it is the tenant’s.

“If not my legal obligation, certainly my moral one to neighbors,” said Nehring.

No matter what the reason is, landlords have to make sure they comply with local and state requirements, such as giving a five day notice of eviction, even if it is for illegal drug activity.      

News 8 contacted the owner, William J. Marshall Jr., of the property shut down on South 24th Street. However, the owner did not return our phone call.