All posts by Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben Reeve-Lewis has worked in Landlord-Tenant law since 1987. He operates variously as a Tenancy Relations Officer, a housing blogger, particularly on Tessa Shepperson's Landlord Law Blog, a housing law trainer for the Chartered Institute of Housing and a broadcaster. In his time he has been a landlord, a tenant, a letting agent and a defender of mortgage repossession cases. There isn't much left in housing for him to have had experience of

Cannabis Factory – Landlords Case Study Advice, Cautionary Tales, Guest Articles, Guest Columns, Landlord News, Latest Articles, Property News

How do you know if your property is being used as a Cannabis factory?

I’m writing this, having been involved recently in a case where a landlord got caught in this conundrum. Leona… we will call her for the sake of confidentiality. I thought I would tell her story for you as it is a classic commonplace tale that illustrates how these things work for landlords and us frontline workers.

Leona’s story.

Leona was renting out a flat she bought as an alternative to a pension, as so many do. She decided she would be best served by using a major high street letting agent.  Go to the professionals, get it done right. OK it will cost a bit more but at least you have some comfort knowing you are using the big names.

The agents took 6 month’s rent up-front. Common practice if the tenant has a bad credit rating and if they don’t have a credible guarantor.

5 months in Leona visited the property to talk to the tenant and see if everything was OK and find out if they wanted to continue the letting. Looking through the letterbox she saw dirt all over the carpets and what looked like several black bin liners full of soil. The bathroom window had been ripped from its hinges and was hanging loose. Through the gap she could see there wasn’t any furniture.

Suspecting that the property was being used as a Cannabis factory she contacted the police, who duly gave her a crime number but didn’t investigate further, probably because the bird had flown. Still not wanting to act in any way that may be deemed inappropriate she contacted her agent and told them about it. They said they would send someone to the property but a couple of weeks later she still hadn’t heard anything back.

When she phoned the agent again she was told that the particular employee didn’t work there anymore so nothing happened beyond a visit. They advised her not to change the locks and that they would serve a section 21 notice and begin the eviction process. At which point she came to me for advice.

The TRO story.

The tenant has another month on the fixed term so I am mindful that if Leona forces entry and changes the locks in error she could be committing an illegal eviction. She is nice and trying very hard to do the right thing so I agree to meet her at the property to see the situation first hand, mindful of the possibility that I might be attending a criminal act.

But I’m also very mindful of the fire hazard presented by the presence of a cannabis factory. In the past fortnight two of them have burnt down in our area, fortunately nobody was hurt but Leona’s flat is on the first floor of a tower block housing 60 families so a fire would be unthinkable. I have to act fast.

I also have contacts in the energy company EDF, specifically Bob and Steve who disconnect cannabis factories with the police, so I called Steve and he also agreed to meet up and see what the coup was.

The EDF story.

Bob and Steve disconnect around 9 or 10 cannabis farms each week in our area alone. They tell me that the main boosters for the equipment used can get up to temperatures around 50 degrees so are constantly on the verge of catching fire.

In our manor Vietnamese gangs are behind most of them, sometimes with willing European accomplices and sometime unwilling ones who are being blackmailed into acting as a front. It may be different gangs in different areas.

Steve runs a check and finds that the property is on an electricity key meter and being charged @ around £70 a week, so whoever the tenant really is he isn’t running a TV and food mixer. Also the tenants underneath reported water leaking down through their ceiling. Steve advises this is usually the automated watering system.

The give-away for EDF is either a huge electricity bill or the complete absence of one. Often they turn up and find the electricity meter removed and the supply hot-wired to the street.

The Police story.

Many cannabis farms can be picked up by helicopters using thermal imaging cameras, at which point they contact EDF for them to run a check on electricity usage and billing names. That’s how some of them come to light but it isn’t fool proof. Farms in basements for instance are difficult to pick up.

As for prosecutions…..well. Cannabis farms are such an endemic problem that further investigation is a waste of time. Once the raid takes place the plants are bagged up and destroyed. No point tracking down fictitious tenants using fake documents

20 cannabis plants growing on a kitchen table will net the farmer £40,000 but in police terms would only be categorised as ‘Personal use’, so not worth prosecuting. A three bedroomed house turned over to serious farming will garner you £500,000, so the odd farm lost here and there gets absorbed into the overall costs, as merely risks of the trade.

I recently worked with the police on a farm where they found a black bin liner containing £50,000. In this case they know the owner but will struggle to connect him to the money or the farm even though we all know him by reputation.

Meanwhile back at Leona’s place

The tenant had changed the locks so she called a friend to climb in through the broken bathroom window and open the door from the inside while Steve and I stood by. Me to deal with any legal issues that may arise from the forced entry, Steve to verify whether or not the place was indeed a cannabis farm.

Once inside there were no signs of occupation, not so much as a stick of furniture or a toothbrush, but piles of soil littered the flat, containing marijuana leaves, discarded dead baby plants and bits of horticultural equipment and 10 black bin liners full of used potting compost.

The tower block in which Leona’s flat sits is part of a row of 3 in the same street. While we were there Steve got a call from the police. It transpired that there were another two farms in the other blocks that needed to be disconnected.

Whether or not they are linked to Leona’s tenants is anybody’s guess but at least they won’t get away with harvesting the other ones.

We left Leona, her sister and their friend to begin the clean-up operation. Put back one of the doors that had been removed, sweep up the piles of dirt on the carpets. She got off lightly to be honest. A good afternoon’s cleaning will get it back to normal.

So what can you do to guard yourself?

Well the 6 month rent up-front ploy is a good indicator. They do this so they won’t be disturbed. It may be that rent in advance is simply because they don’t have a good credit rating or a guarantor but bear in mind it is also a classic sign of skulduggery. You have to ask the question; if their credit rating is so bad, how come they have £5,000 or £6,000 to bang down on the counter?

In such cases you could announce a visit after the first month to make sure they are all settling in and happy.

If you think there is something fishy going on call EDF and mention your concerns, they will look into it from their end. They may not tell you the exact state of play on the person’s account, they have to be mindful of the Data Protection Act but they do know the signs and have more powers if something really is amiss.

Talk to neighbours to see if they have noticed strange comings and goings such as late night visits with a van loading and unloading. The equipment is quite bulky and difficult to install on the QT. In Leona’s case they cut the pigeon netting on the balcony and hauled it all up on ropes to avoid being caught by the tower block’s CCTV in the entry area.

If you have strong suspicions call the police in. remember cannabis farms are a major fire hazard and you could end up losing the property entirely, not to mention endangering the lives of the neighbours.

If the police visit and it turns out that it’s all in error, well it’s only a little bit embarrassing, easily set right with an apology and a bottle of wine.

Finally, if as Leona’s agents did, they tell you that they will serve a section 21 forget it. You don’t have the time for that, each day that goes by makes it more dangerous. Call your council, call EDF, call the police, make waves but remember these things are run by criminal gangs, don’t tackle it yourself.Cannabis Factory Landlords Case Study

Is rent hiking a good business model? Don't Shoot The Messenger, Landlord News, Latest Articles, Property News, UK Property Forum for Buy to Let Landlords

Is rent hiking a good business modelIt’s been a while since I wrote anything in my ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ series. Mainly because I kept getting shot ha-ha.

But I have a tough skin.

This article is an open letter to all you P118 landlords but probably more the London crew, because it is about rent increases and London is a different animal to the rest of the UK. I see properties for rent in different parts of Britain where the rents seem reasonable.

London is off the scale though. Continue reading Is rent hiking a good business model?

Homelessness suitability order and PRS landlords by Ben Reeve-Lewis Guest Articles, Guest Columns, Landlord News, Latest Articles, Property News, Property118 News

A bombshell was dropped recently. Admittedly an expected Bombshell, but it took all us people working in the public sector by surprise in the speed of introducing the Homelessness Suitability Order, having hung around in the wings for over a year.

Since the advent of the Housing Act 1996 councils have been able to make offers of private rented accommodation to homeless applicants as a discharge of duty but the offer was always a voluntary take-up, called the “Qualifying Offer”. The new suitability order abolishes the qualifying offer, so, in short, a council can prevent homelessness by offering someone walking through the door, a 12 month AST. Continue reading Homelessness suitability order and PRS landlords by Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben Reeve-Lewis has a possession question for district judges Landlord News, Latest Articles, Property News

Are district judges staging an unspoken rebellion in possession cases?

This article is largely based on possession claims brought by social landlords but I ask you, the PRS landlord reader, to think about the import of what this might mean for possible future repossessions in an environment where I just read today, the amount of homeless families in B&B accommodation has risen 50% this year. Continue reading Ben Reeve-Lewis has a possession question for district judges

Might the word ‘Landlord’ be damaging relationships? Guest Articles, Guest Columns, Landlord News, Latest Articles, Personal Development & Motivation, Property News, Question of the Week

I’ve been writing for P118 for a while now and feel I have connected with enough sane voices here to put forward a slightly more insane idea for reasoned discussion, ideas that have been occurring to me for some time. The possibility that the very term ‘Landlord’ might be damaging relationships between landlords and tenants.

Let’s be blunt, in the main landlords and tenants don’t really like each other as a species. Each party thinks the other has it all their own way, that the law is all on the other one’s side. Continue reading Might the word ‘Landlord’ be damaging relationships?

The quiet revolution among letting agents Guest Articles, Guest Columns, Landlord News, Latest Articles, Property News

I have a suit but I hardly ever wear it. It’s only a cheap one, £100 from Zara’s a couple of years back, I use it for court sometimes. Some people were born to wear them; they carry them off, think George Clooney, Cary Grant. But do you know what I look like in a suit? The Defendant! That’s what, and it’s why I don’t feel comfortable in them. Continue reading The quiet revolution among letting agents

Jugaad Guest Columns, Property Investment Strategies

My article this time is more of an open question to which I would like your input. Background first.

I was listening to ‘In Business’ on Radio 4 the other day, a programme about something I had not heard of- the business concept of “Frugal Innovation”, currently much in favour with many huge corporations and even David Cameron.

The idea was first put forward in a book by the late C K Prahalad “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. He took his inspiration from the ingenuity and inventiveness of the Indian rural population in devising solutions to problems in their community when the average wage is 50p a day. Hardly enough to allow them to go around making prototypes and also not a normal market for corporations looking for people to sell to. Continue reading Jugaad

Don’t Shoot the Messenger #10 Cautionary Tales, Don't Shoot The Messenger, Guest Columns, Tenant Eviction

I recently had a long online discussion with Mary Latham, in which we both tried to get to the bottom of the legal stuff around whether or not a managing agent is allowed to sign a Section 21 notice.

We didn’t end up with a definitive conclusion. I will write a separate piece on my thoughts on the legal stuff in a while but I wanted to write about something that came up as an adjunct to what we were talking about. Whether people in my line of work, who defend possession actions brought by landlords, will always try to buy time for the tenant in the face of all reasonableness. Continue reading Don’t Shoot the Messenger #10

Ben Reeve Lewis at 2012 The Property Investor Show Guest Articles

A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur – or if you prefer, A Tenancy Relations Officer at a Property Investor’s Show.

Around 120 years ago Mark Twain wrote the classic fish out of water tale about a modern American transplanted to mediaeval Britain. Today I participated in my own version by delivering a presentation at the property investor’s Show at the Excel Arena in London’s Docklands.

Mark Alexander suggested to Nick Clark, the show’s organiser that I might be an interesting, left-field bet. Someone whose job it is to prosecute landlords for harassment and illegal eviction, presenting to a bunch of people for whom I am the anti-Christ. Continue reading Ben Reeve Lewis at 2012 The Property Investor Show

Don’t Shoot the Messenger #9 – How the Police can land you in hot water Cautionary Tales, Don't Shoot The Messenger, Guest Columns, Tenant Eviction

Don't shoot the messengerImagine the scenario. You are being threatened or assaulted in the street, your home has been burgled, your car has been stolen. Who ya gonna call? The cops of course, because they know their stuff, act appropriately and sort it out for you right? They ARE the law.

But what happens when the actions of the Police in assisting you actually puts you in the dock with criminal allegations being made against you? What do you do when you follow the advice of the law professionals and find yourself in court? Continue reading Don’t Shoot the Messenger #9 – How the Police can land you in hot water

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