Tips for Landlords: Prevent and Exterminate Hazardous Waste
As a landlord of residential property, you probably don’t need to be very concerned about hazardous wastes. This is more of a concern for commercial property owners who rent to businesses that need to dispose of hazardous wastes, such as dry cleaners, auto repair shops, print shops, and manufacturing plants.
However, as a residential landlord, you still need to be concerned about residents pouring used car oil down sewers or drains, tossing old batteries in trash receptacles, or storing hazardous materials in their apartment that could leak or otherwise affect other residents.
Determining whether something is a hazardous waste
According to the EPA, “Hazardous waste is waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health or the environment. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, gases, or sludge [mixtures of liquid and solids]. They can be discarded commercial products, like cleaning fluids or pesticides, or the byproducts of manufacturing processes.” Common consumer products that are or contain hazardous wastes are the following:
Paints, stains, and solvents
Motor oil, transmission fluid, and antifreeze
Herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides
Fluorescent light bulbs
Electronic devices, including computers, TVs, and smart phones
Most flammable products, including gasoline, kerosene, and propane
If you’re unsure whether a substance qualifies as a hazardous waste, use the Definition of Solid Waste (DSW) Decision Tool to make your determination.
Identifying common sources of hazardous wastes
Hazardous wastes may contaminate your property from the outside in or the inside out, so you need to know what the most common sources are and then monitor them vigilantly.
Manufacturing plants, dry cleaners, gas stations, car washes, sewage treatment plants, landfills, print shops, labs, medical facilities, cosmetic manufacturers, chemical plants, and other businesses mostly in the manufacturing sector are common sources of hazardous wastes. Wastes may contaminate your property, so keep an eye on neighboring businesses and contact your local environmental agency if you have any concerns. (The EPA tries to outsource enforcement to state, county, and local agencies.)
Contractors and maintenance workers
Careless contractors and maintenance workers may spill or improperly dispose of paints, solvents, cleaning solutions, and other hazardous materials, which is another reason to keep an eye on contractors and maintenance staff. Train your maintenance staff on the proper disposal of hazardous materials.
To address potential issues with residents improperly disposing of hazardous materials, focus on two areas: what they can pour down the drain and what they can dump in the trash. Monitoring either of these two disposal methods is nearly impossible, so encourage recycling and green living and educate residents on proper disposal methods.
A very serious and growing problem in residential rental properties is methamphetamine contamination from residents who use their units or portions of their units to produce the illegal drug methamphetamine. Any residential property used for producing methamphetamine may have extensive contamination. If you suspect methamphetamine contamination, call your local law enforcement agency to inspect the property and secure the premises.
Officers will call a local health officer who will inspect the property. If the property is found to be contaminated, law enforcement or the health officer will usually call in a contractor to remove containers with chemicals and equipment used in the production process, but trace elements of chemicals may remain in tubs, sinks, drains, in carpeting and in cabinets, on walls, in the ventilation system, and on other surfaces.
Call a contractor who’s certified in eliminating methamphetamine contamination to perform the cleanup. Law enforcement officers or the health officer who performed the inspection may have names and contact information for local cleanup services.
Educating residents and staff on proper use and disposal of hazardous substances
Dealing effectively with hazardous wastes usually involves educating consumers and getting everyone in a community, including business owners, government agencies, and environmental groups, to cooperate. You can do your part to encourage residents and staff to adopt environmentally friendly practices and by educating them on how to reduce and dispose of hazardous substances. Here are a few suggestions:
Provide residents and staff with information about local toxic waste collection sites — locations and hours. (Some communities sponsor tox-drops one or two times a year, where local residents can drop off toxic products and electronic equipment.)
Inform residents on what they should recycle, place in the trash, and never place in the trash. You may want to put signs on trash receptacles indicating what not to place in the receptacle.
Purchase nontoxic or less toxic products for use in cleaning, repairing, and maintaining your rental property.
Encourage residents to use nontoxic or less toxic products, when possible.
Instruct residents and staff to use only the recommended amounts of product (or less). Using excessive amounts of cleaning solution, for example, places that much more of it into the environment.
Figuring out who’s legally liable for the cleanup
To determine which party is liable for cleaning up a hazardous waste, courts typically look to the party responsible for introducing that waste to the property. If the landlord or one of his agents caused the mess, he’s responsible for the cleanup. If the resident or resident’s child or guest caused the mess, then the resident is responsible for cleanup, regardless of whether the hazardous waste is inside or outside.
If a third-party, such as a delivery truck or delivery person, introduces the hazardous waste, determining whether the landlord or resident is liable becomes more challenging. If the waste is inside the rental unit, the landlord is likely to pin it on the resident. If it’s outside the rental unit, the landlord is more likely to be responsible.
However, in either case, the landlord or the resident may take legal action against the third party to collect any damages, including any cleanup costs incurred.