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Prospective Apartment Tenants Take to Drug Testing

ASSOCIATED PRESS

An apartment complex is requiring prospective tenants to submit to drug tests, and the manager said she has taken hundreds of applications from people who just want a safe place to live.

More than 500 people have agreed to take a urine test to be considered as tenants in the refurbished 167-unit Summerwood Commons complex, said manager Irene Reimer. Only a handful of the prospective tenants have questioned the policy.

The complex in this racially mixed, blue-collar community about 10 miles east of Cleveland may be the first in the nation to require drug testing, said Paul Hancock, chief of the Justice Department’s housing and civil enforcement section.

“We decided to try it,” Reimer said. “If we can’t do it, I’m sure somebody out there will tell us we can’t do it, and that will be the end of it.”

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Because the complex is operated by a private group, the requirement is legal, housing officials and a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union said. That legal opinion is not unanimous, however.

Summerwood Commons was known as Euclid Hills when it was condemned by the city more than a year ago. Authorities were often summoned because of drug-related incidents and domestic violence, Police Chief Wayne Baumgart said.

But the complex has been undergoing a $6.3-million renovation and is scheduled to open Sept. 23. Today, newly planted trees dot the landscape and small signs warn people to stay off the green lawns.

The drug testing has begun, Reimer said. All employees have taken the tests, and tenants might be subjected to random drug tests after they move in, Reimer said.

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“I don’t mind at all,” said applicant Tiffany Moore, 23, as she held her 2-year-old son, Alexander, on her lap. “I want to raise him in a decent community.”

Tonia Pruitt, a 29-year-old applicant from Cleveland, agreed, calling drug testing “a good idea, and I think it’s a benefit.”

Public agencies such as metropolitan housing authorities would probably face a legal challenge if they tried to screen applicants for drug use. But National Church Residences, the nonprofit corporation that owns the complex, can require the testing because it is private, said Kevin O’Neill of the American Civil Liberties Union in Cleveland.

NCR, which was established in 1961 by four Presbyterian churches, operates about 9,000 units in Ohio.

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Angelina Omelas of the Housing and Urban Development office in Washington said it appears private developers may conduct drug screening, as long as they pay for it and apply the test to every person.

But Avery Friedman, a fair-housing attorney in Cleveland, thinks the concept may violate the Fair Housing Act.

“Since 1989, it has been unlawful to deny housing to any person on the basis of handicap,” Friedman said. “Persons afflicted with the disease of chemical dependency fall within that definition.”


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