Marijuana Grow Houses are Coming to Your Neighbourhood

At least three Canadian police forces are publishing the addresses of busted marijuana grow houses.  What?  You haven’t heard about the latest potential nightmare for home buyers and homeowners who rent their property?  A marijuana grow house is a home that has been physically altered to facilitate the production of marijuana.  The alterations include cutting into hydro power sources in order to steal the extra electricity needed to power the high-wattage lights that help the plants grow.  The ventilation in the house is often reconfigured to remove the strange smells that are produced by the marijuana plants.  Regular spraying of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides on the plants in very high concentrations also contributes to a chemical contamination of the premises.  And, let’s not forget that there is an awful lot of water used on those plants and the resulting moisture generally leaves the house with a serious mould problem.

Guess how many grow ops are in Canada?  Well, the Canadian Real Estate Association estimates as many as 50,000 across the country, and climbing.  These houses, and other premises, are purchased or rented by organized criminals who essentially trash the house for as long as they can get away with it and leave behind a property that may have no hope of being repaired.  In some cases, the mould and structural damage is so extensive that the house must be torn down.  In some cases, these criminals buy the property.  In other cases, they rent or sublet from innocent people.  In one case, a man had an opportunity to work abroad.  He rented his home to a respectable couple who, in turn, (without the owner’s permission) sublet the property unwittingly to grow op criminals.  The homeowner returned from abroad to find his house ruined.

The profit is certainly attractive for the criminals. It is estimated that one residential grow op will house 1,600 plants and produce a $1.6 million profit in one year.  Here are the shockers for the owners of the property: most homeowners’ insurance policies will not cover the cost of repairing damage caused by this type of criminal activity, and the estimates from the Insurance Bureau of Canada suggest that the average cost of repairing a home that has been used as a grow op—if it can be repaired at all—is about $40,000.

How can you recognize a marijuana grow house?  The following list is taken directly from the website of the Toronto Police (who, unfortunately, are extremely familiar with the grow house phenomenon).  Consider the following:

* The house does not appear lived-in.  Someone visits but only stays for short periods of time.

*   Activity inside the house seems to take place at odd hours

* The exterior appearance of the property, such as the lawn and small repairs, is neglected.

* People using the property often back into the garage and enter the home through the garage

*  Garbage is minimal and may contain used soil and plant material.

*   Windows are covered.

*   Bright light escapes from windows, and windows are often covered with thick         condensation.

*  There are sounds of interior construction.

*  Timers are set inside the residence.

*  There is a strong “skunk-like” odour coming from the property.

*   Items being brought into the house include soil planters, fans and large lights.

*  Garbage bags are not left for the regular collection, but are transported away from the property.

*  In the winter, there is no snow on the roof even when other houses in the area are snow-covered.

*  There are unusual amounts of steam coming from the house vents.

A surprising indicator that a property might be a grow op is not that it smells of skunk but that it smells too good.  Criminals often overuse fabric softener in dryers and vents in order to mask the smell of the plants.  So, an excessive or frequent smell of fabric softener in the air may actually be a clue that the property is a grow op.

The problem is so extensive that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has started to develop National Remediation Guidelines for rebuilding or restoring a property that has been used as a grow house.

Now, here is where is gets particularly frightening for potential homeowners—real estate agents do not always tell potential buyers that a property was used as a grow house.  Unscrupulous real estate agents will ensure that the real homeowner, who is aware of the grow op problem, is never available to meet with potential buyers.  The agent will profess that he or she has no direct knowledge of whether the property was used as a grow op and the homeowner, of course, is never around to answer questions.  In a very active market, a potential buyer might be discouraged from making an offer that is conditional upon a home inspection.  In haste to buy a house at a bargain price, the purchaser may find that they bought nothing but trouble.  At least one Toronto real estate lawyer is recommending that any offer to purchase a resale home contain a clause whereby the seller of the property warrants and represents that the property was not used for the growth or manufacture of any illegal substances during their period of ownership, and that to the best of the seller’s knowledge and belief, the use of the property, and the buildings and structures thereon, has never been for the growth or manufacture of illegal substances.  If the vendor balks at putting such a clause in, you know that you are probably dealing with a grow house or a former grow house.

This brings us full circle to the fact that police forces are now publishing the addresses of busted grow houses.  If you are in the market for property, you must beware.  Check the police list: a house that seems to be a bargain may be anything but.  In addition to having the seller warrant that it was not used as a grow house, insist on a building inspection by a certified home inspector.  The people who are trying to unload former grow houses will slap on a lot of paint and plaster to cover up the mess that was left behind by the criminals.  A certified home inspector will see right through it.  If an agent or a vendor of property is rushing you to buy without a home inspection, alarm bells should be going off.

On top of turning the actual buildings into disasters, these grow houses are contributing a lot of cash to criminal activity in Canada.  Their presence in a neighbourhood increases the risk of violence and residual crime.  Their theft of electricity leads to higher utility bills.  These properties are much more likely to have fires than normal homes, and the tampering with electrical power access can create electrocution hazards on the property.  If all of that is not horrifying enough, police have found that some grow houses have been booby-trapped to injure or kill trespassers and emergency service workers.

If you suspect that there is a grow op house in your neighbourhood or you know of one, contact the police and let them deal with it.  Remember, the people running that grow house are criminals and will do anything to ensure that they are not caught.

Source:  2007 and 2014

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