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Landlords: Meth lab remediation payments should remain part of the law

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia landlords are concerned about a bill that got full Senate approval earlier this week. An amendment to Senate bill 204 removed payments from the state’s Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund to help landlords and homeowners pay for meth lab remediation.

Last year the fund forked over more than $800,000 to landlords, most of them from out of state, depleting the amount available for victim’s of other crimes. The current law provides up to $10,000 per claim for meth remediation.

Jackson County Sen. Mitch Carmichael said on the floor of the Senate, “If somebody walks into your rental unit with a ball bat or hammer and tears apart the place, we don’t compensate for that.”

Jennifer Rhyne, the president of the West Virginia Landlords Association, said there’s another side to the issue. She stressed no landlord intentionally rents out their property to meth makers.

Meth lab remediation is costly. Some properties will cost into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“As much as we screen tenants, do credit checks, do criminal background checks, it happens. Sometimes it’s somebody who has never had a criminal record before and they come in and do this and it only takes an hour to cook a batch of meth,” explained Rhyne.

She stressed landlords shouldn’t pay for the crimes of others.

“When the police do catch [the meth makers], it should be the person cooking the meth that’s responsible to clean it up. However, the law states that the owner is responsible to clean it up.”

Not only is Rhyne a landlord, she’s also a meth remediation contractor.

“Our rates go anywhere on the low end from around $5,000 to up to $15,000. That is just for the remediation,” according to Rhyne. “After the owner does the remediation, they have to replace carpets. They usually have to repaint. They have to replace all the furnishings.”

Most landlords, said Rhyne, don’t have $15,000 or $20,000 sitting in the bank to pay for it.

“The state gives you very little amount of time before the [remediation] has to be done before [landlords] become the criminal!”

Rhyne said she’s remediated properties from low-end rentals to a house worth more than $300,000. It runs the gambit. And it doesn’t just impact landlords. She’s currently working with a senior citizen who worked three jobs most of her life. She allowed her grandson to move into her home when he was in financial straits only to have him cook meth in the house. The fund currently would help her pay for the remediation. Under the proposed bill, Rhyne said the senior citizens would be out of luck and possibly out of her home she worked so hard to purchase.

The remediator stressed the cost to the Crime Victim’s Fund is minimal compared to what could happen. Landlords and homeowners who can’t afford to remediate their properties have to vacate them.

“It effects [neighbor’s] property values. The home starts being vandalized. Kids will break in. It creates a community issue when you’ve got this meth house sitting there,” Rhyne explained.

She said the city is left with the cost of sending police patrols to chase trespassers out of the property, they eventually will have to pay for the building to be torn down, they no longer receive any taxes on the property and people no longer want to buy a home in that neighborhood.

She said lawmakers need to rethink the amendment and consider all the consequences of their actions.

The bill is now under consideration in the House.

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