The illicit marijuana industry has a long history in Canada, but in the last decade the number of houses, farms and makeshift laboratories where marijuana is grown (known as grow-ops) has doubled. There are now believed to be more than 50,000 grow-ops throughout Canada. In British Columbia alone, marijuana growth generates an estimated $7 billion annually.
Often thought to be a trivial (or at least low-priority) and isolated problem in dilapidated sections of town, grow-ops are just as often found in suburbia, often causing a host of property damage to rented properties owned by unsuspecting landlords, and to neighboring homes. Law enforcement agents say $500,000 homes are as likely to be targeted as inner-city tear-downs.
The problem is a rural one as well affecting farms and unattended acreage. Farmers have found large sections of their crops cleared, marijuana plants growing there instead. People unwittingly stumbling onto these marijuana crops are at risk of being injured by booby traps set up by the growers to protect their crops.
Canadian homeowners have a number of reasons to be concerned about the increased development of these grow-ops. First, because grow-ops are often large operations, they are commonly backed by organized crime as a source of high profits at relatively low risks. Generally speaking, where organized crime is found, so is systemic corruption and crimes symptomatic of these organizations: theft, violence and sometimes homicide.
Secondly, grow-ops require an excessive amount of electrical power (up to 10 times normal household usage) for special lighting and ventilation to cultivate the plants. To avoid detection, growers drill holes in the foundation of these homes to illegally tap into the main power source. Of course, this causes a major fire hazard and puts unsuspecting neighbors in jeopardy.
A third reason for concern is the inherent health risk and extensive damage caused by mold which tends to grow during the process. The temperature and humidity in grow-ops often cause toxic mold and moisture damage to walls, flooring and framing. Repairing damage caused by grow-op practices can be extremely expensive.
A related problem is the failure to disclose information to new buyers that the home was previously a grow-op. Buyers who think they are getting a perfectly sound home may, in fact, be purchasing a house of hidden horrors from undetected toxic mold to damaged sub-flooring to high neighborhood crime. According to law enforcement officers, sometimes criminals, unaware of the new buyers, return to the home to steal the plants or commit other, often retaliatory, crimes.
Finally, growers will go to dangerous lengths to guard plants said to net $1,000 each. Police officers have reportedly seen everything from elaborate booby traps to "guard bears" (no, really – bears serving as guards to the grow-op).
Canadian landlords can protect their properties from the devastation of grow-ops by being vigilant and knowing the signs that a grow-up might be in operation. If a grow-op is suspected, neighbors are warned to call police immediately. Here are common signs to look for:
• All windows are covered, often with dark plastic or newspaper
• Condensation forms on windows due to high humidity levels inside
• Residents may only be in the home occasionally and for short periods of time
• Unusual visitor behavior – no visitors or frequent visitors for short periods
• Bright interior lights left on all day and night
• People access the home only through the garage
• Strange skunk-like odors
• Unusual garbage – little or no garbage or unusual items such as pots, soil and wiring
• Sounds of electrical humming or fans
• Unusual wiring on the outside or signs the hydro meter has been tampered with
• Little snow (or steam) on the roof in winter
• Many "Beware of dog" or "Guard dog on duty" signs and excessive security
• Localized power surges or brown-outs
• Guard bears (apparently).
Canadian landlords and property managers should be aware of the signs and be prepared for swift action to avoid any potential damage to their properties.