Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK with much of it having been grown here, increasingly in smaller residential properties as well on larger scales in industrial and commercial premises including vacant properties.
Cultivation is a risk all landlords should be aware of, as it can often lead to significant property damage and loss of rental income.
Property damage can occur in a number of ways :-
- Intruders will sometimes damage or destroy walls to make room for large equipment required for their cannabis growing operation, which can also lead to the release of asbestos.
- There can be a significant risk of fire as the growers will typically use a large number of hot lamps, often plugged in to overloaded electricity sockets.
- Fires can break out in roof voids of residential blocks of flats – where fire detection equipment may not be in place.
- Escape of water due to the extensive watering systems used in the production process.
- Large quantities of the highly flammable butane gas are sometimes used to create butane hash oil – a form of super-strength cannabis which can result in explosions.
As well as the cost of repairing any structural damage, landlords can also be faced with large bills for cleaning their properties and removing the equipment used to grow cannabis. This can of course have a negative impact on rental income during the clean-up process.
There could also be personal implications for any landlord deemed to have turned a blind eye to cannabis being grown on their property. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, any landlord or letting agent who allows their rental property to be used for production or supply of controlled drugs could face up to 14 years in prison.
It is extremely important, therefore, that landlords can spot the warning signs of cannabis cultivation.
Indicators of possible cannabis growth could include:-
- A sweet, pungent smell in or around the property
- Condensation on windows (or windows being blacked-out)
- Evidence that electrical wiring has been tampered with (to bypass the mains)
- Unexpected noise levels (e.g. from extractor fans)
- A significant increase in electricity usage
- Powerful lights in operation day and night
- Lots of bagged rubbish being left outside the property
- Tenants offering to pay several month’s rent upfront in cash
If a property is vacant, it is important to ensure it is properly secured and that regular checks are made. It can take up to 15 weeks to harvest a cannabis crop – so regular checks should pick up the warning signs of cannabis cultivation.
Regular inspections are equally important if a property is being leased. It is also important to carry out robust background checks on prospective tenants, and requests to pay rent or deposits in cash should be refused.
Any landlord who suspects their property is being used for cannabis cultivation should not approach the tenants directly, but should instead contact their local police force or crimestoppers