The growing problem of cannabis farms

The growing problem of cannabis farms

0:01 AM, 27th April 2023, About A year ago 4

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One of the worst nightmares for landlords is finding their property damaged by cannabis cultivation, which is becoming all too common.

The threat of cannabis farms has long been an issue for landlords up and down the country with £2.4 billion worth of the drug consumed in England and Wales a year (2021 figures).

Cannabis farms can cause catastrophic damage to rented properties with landlords having to fork out thousands of pounds for repairs.

This Property118 investigation highlights the amount of damage cannabis farms can do and the signs for landlords to look out for.

£15,000 worth of damage

One landlord told Property118 she suffered £15,000 worth of damage to her property after a cannabis farm was discovered in 2018.

The landlord, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the cannabis farm was discovered in the top bedroom upstairs.

She said her story is a cautionary tale to check the letting agent as much as the tenant.

She explains: “I think any experienced letting agent would have recognised the cannabis smell but I as an innocent landlord did not.

“I got the distinct impression that the letting agent was far more on the tenant’s side than my side which made me feel very uncomfortable.”

The police were called but would not evict the tenants since they still were on an AST.

She added: “The men they arrested at the time were never charged because it could not be proved that it was they who were growing the cannabis. The occupants claimed that they were merely ‘visiting’ the house and didn’t know about the cannabis.

“The tenant (who never lived at the property but set up the farm) was never even interviewed by the police, much less charged.”

When she asked about charging the tenant and the letting agent, she was told to claim insurance and ‘get on with her life’.

She told us: “When I asked about charging the tenant, and the letting agent, I was told that it was a ‘civil’ matter, but that I was unlikely to win because I had no ‘proof’ and even if I did obtain a court judgement to pay costs, I would never succeed in extracting it from these people.

“Therefore, I should just claim the insurance and ‘get on with my life’.”

Another landlord was left with several implications following the use of her property as a cannabis farm.

She told Property118 she had to deal with the stress of seeing the damage and mess that had been caused in the property.

On top of this, she had to deal with the insurance company causing more delays and frustration.

That meant the landlord’s timetable for the repairs of the property was disrupted with subsequent loss of rental income.

The worst thing she said was: “The culprits were not found and inevitably they just set up somewhere else so you never know if you could be unfortunately targeted again.”

Over 1,000 cannabis farms across London

Cannabis has been the most consistently used drug in England and Wales since 1995, according to figures from the ONS.

Data from the Met Police found more than 1,000 farms across London in the last six years.

In 2020, 455 cannabis farms were discovered – more than double the number found during any of the previous four years.

Analysis of data from regional police forces confirms the extent of drug manufacturing and cultivation in the UK.

It reveals that there were 1,427 suspected cases of illegal drug manufacture or cultivation in 2019 and 2020 in the UK, equating to two police cases being opened every single day.

Nearly half (48%) of police investigations into the theft of electricity are suspected to relate to the cultivation or manufacture of illegal drugs.

A Freedom of Information request by Direct Line Business Insurance reveals that the police force carrying out the most investigations into energy abstraction for illegal drug cultivation is West Yorkshire Police, which had 211 cases in 2020.

West Midlands Police came second with 136 investigations, followed by Lancashire Constabulary which launched 110 probes.

These three regions account for more than half (55%) of all investigations into the theft of electricity for the use of drug cultivation.

The data also reveals Birmingham, Solihull and London are hotspots for cannabis cultivation in rental properties.

Landlords can unknowingly become victims of criminals who abuse and neglect their properties

Data from Direct Line found the average insurance claim for repairing a landlord’s property damaged by cannabis cultivation was £9,471 in 2020.

Overall, one in nine (12%) landlords who submitted an insurance claim for malicious damage to their properties in 2020 did so due to the tenant using the property for the illegal cultivation of cannabis.

Jamie Chaplin, the landlord product manager at Direct Line business insurance, said: “The cultivation of illegal drugs by tenants in rented properties is an ongoing and real concern for landlords across the UK.

“Sadly, landlords can unknowingly become victims of criminals who abuse and neglect their properties.

“It is essential to conduct proper background checks on tenants, regularly inspect the property inside and out and watch out for suspicious activity such as the tenant asking to pay in cash months in advance.

Payouts are limited to £5k-£10k

Jason McClean, a director at Home Insurer said landlords need to check if cannabis farms are covered by their insurance.

He claims more insurers are excluding cannabis farms on insurance and sometimes payouts are restricted between £5,000-£10,000.

He said: “More and more insurers are excluding cover for cannabis farms in the policy wording/insurance product information documents as a general exclusion.

“It’s hard to tell if a tenant is going to be malicious, however, and a good letting agent will be your first line of defence. Clean credit checks, good references and gut feeling from the agents will help you.”

He added: “After that, you need to ensure agents are visiting at regular intervals – normally this is three or six months – or as required by your insurance policy.

“Short terms between visits will limit any possible damage building up and reduce any claims costs; vital when payouts are normally limited to £5,000 or £10,000.”

Cannabis farms are very dangerous places

According to Crimestoppers, the independent charity, says the signs landlords should look out for when it comes to cannabis farms include:

  • A powerful distinctive sweet, sickly aroma
  • Frequent visitors throughout the day and night
  • Blacked out windows, or vents sealed/blocked to prevent the heat and smell of cannabis from inside the property from escaping
  • Chinks of bright light throughout the night
  • Birds gathering on the roof, particularly in cold weather
  • In winter, snow melts unusually quickly on the roof
  • High levels of condensation on windows
  • Noise from fans
  • Large amounts of rubbish, including compost bags
  • Electricity meter being tampered with/altered and new cabling, sometimes leading to street lighting.

The charity said the signs that lettings agents and landlords need to look for in a tenant when they suspect them of cannabis cultivation include:

  • Poor or no references from a previous letting agent
  • Offering to pay several months in advance
  • Preference to pay rent in cash without reasonable cause
  • Wanting to keep the utility bills in a landlord’s name
  • Asking for complete privacy, requesting no periodic inspections or preventing the inspection of the property even when given reasonable notice
  • Changing locks to keep landlords and agents away from a property.

On its website, the charity says: “Cannabis farms are very dangerous places and pose a serious risk of fire.

“Often the electricity meter has been bypassed and overloaded electrical circuits run close to water-filled pipes.

“Plants grown upstairs in a building can also cause floorboards to rot, presenting the danger of collapse.”

Landlords have to bear the brunt of the damage

The private rented sector is a prime target for criminal gangs who turn residential properties into cannabis farms – and it’s a problem that isn’t going away since news outlets regularly report on these farms being found by police and closed down.

This thriving drug sector unfortunately means that landlords must bear the brunt of the damage and cost as more and more insurance companies exclude cannabis farms from their policies.

So, not only do landlords have to pay for repairs – they are unlikely to claim all of their expenses from their insurer and they will have a lengthy void period as they bring the property back into a rentable condition. Careful checks and regular visits are the LEAST a landlord can do to avoid the financial strife of having a cannabis farm in their property.


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Comments

Coastal

11:57 AM, 27th April 2023, About A year ago

This happened to me in 2019, when other tenants in the block reported a possible smell of gas! I immediately visited the property and stood outside the front door of the flat suspected of being the source. Immediately knew what this smell was and tried knocking to have a word with the tenant. No answer and so decided to report to the Police to investigate. Well, the resulting damage and cost of this decision quickly became apparent. The tenant hadn't actually done any damage to the property, placing the Cannabis plants under special growing tents, with enclosed lighting above. However, a huge amount of damage was done by the Police, when instead of later requesting a key from myself or the agent, arrived and smashed the front door and frame, turned the flat upside down, then emptied every large plant pot of soil onto the carpets and trod it everywhere, including down through the communal area just for good measure! Suffice to say, following some £4k in repairs, decoration and carpets etc, wish I hadn't bothered reporting to the Police, whom clearly didn't give a dam about other peoples property.

shaun carter

20:46 PM, 27th April 2023, About A year ago

I had no idea. Please raided property 4 months into tenancy. The house was jutted, a complete exteator system/ lighting etc in all rooms. All rooms foil rapped so heat cameras in helicopters couldn't see.

As well as tenant wrecking hoyse, police added to damage. Yes doors kicked in, and up stairs they flew all equipment onto my 80 metre square flat roif; that was wrecked, so a had to spend many thousands completely replacing cover/wood structure.

Also I was arrested and questioned 3 times. 1st time they questioned me, and took my computer and phone. 3 years one despite case complete, never saw again. I was after questioning released at 2am. I had ni money, no nothing, and 45 miles from home. If a landlord is proven quilty of knowing, up to 15 years in prison. I learnt all this from studying the law side after raid. The growers I believe had top solicitors so got the minimum I believe.

As a land lord its hard enough to suspect this, plus the first 6 months you are really restricted on inspections. When collectioning rent I was only in garden or kitchen, so saw, or suspected anything, as the property being rented was massive.

The only cannabis I spelt was in all the flats surrounding the police station? Work that out

GlanACC

8:42 AM, 29th April 2023, About A year ago

I had non paying tenants who had 2 young kids, they weren't gowing the stuff but were certainly smoking a lot of it and had very strange people arriving day and night. Both were on benefits - I reported them to the police who couldn't really care as it was 'for personal use', however I also reported it to social services who were much more interested. Eventually evicted them for non payment of rent, but luckily had a guarantor who was most concerned about the kids. He paid me the rent owing and cut the tenants out of his will (he had a few quid) and changed his will to leave everything to the kids (in trust so they couldnt get it till 18, and more importantly the parents couldnt get it). Sometime people do the right thing.

Judith Wordsworth

12:11 PM, 14th June 2023, About 12 months ago

"A powerful distinctive sweet, sickly aroma" Not necessarily true

This is an interesting read re the smell or lack of smell of cannabis plants when growing

https://www.growweedeasy.com/when-does-it-start-to-smell-when-growing-weed

Whilst American this might be useful to read too https://theconversation.com/growing-cannabis-indoors-produces-a-lot-of-greenhouse-gases-just-how-much-depends-on-where-its-grown-156486

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