As a lawyer specialising in criminal law and land lord and tenant, I have represented clients arrested for being involved in cannabis farms as well as landlords who have had the misfortune of their properties being destroyed by their use as a cannabis farm. In this article is set out some background to cannabis farms in residential properties and somethings to look out for to try and avoid this happening to you.
Generally, a landlord will not become aware of the fact that their property is being used as a cannabis farm until it’s far too late. The first they will know about it usually involves the police breaking the bad news that they have discovered a cannabis farm at the property.The landlord then has the heart-breaking job of visiting their previously pristine property to assess the level of damage done.
The process for setting up a farm involves several stages.
A suitable property is identified by the criminal gang and they will arrange to rent it, often paying a large amount of rent up-front to the landlord. This is to try and lull the landlord into a false sense of security that as the rent is paid there is no need to carry out checks on the property.
Once the tenancy has commenced, the criminal gangs will install their “workers” into the property. These may be vulnerable adults, drug addicts, people who owe a debt to the gang, or illegal immigrants.They will initially set up the farm utilising large amounts of equipment such as high-powered lights, heaters, starter motors, fans, drying equipment,ventilation pipes, and hydroponics equipment. There may also be structural alterations made such as the walls being lined with foil, windows blacked out or boarded up, and holes knocked in the walls for ventilation. To power all the equipment the electricity meter will also usually be bypassed. This is all before any of the plants have even started growing!
Once the growing begins the plants need to be tended to which involves the “workers” visiting the property regularly (assuming that they are not living in the property). This is to check that the equipment is working; to water and feed the cannabis plants; to trim, harvest and dry the cannabis; package it and transport it out of the property.
A typical 3 bedroom house cannabis farm could contain as many as 200-300 plants with a street value of £160,000-200,000 for each three month harvest. You can see that this is big business.
There is also the problem that rival gangs,rather than setting up their own cannabis farm, will sometimes come in and takeover a farm at the time of harvest. This can cause even more damage to the property in terms of them smashing their way in through doors or windows. The flip side of this is that to try and avoid their farm being taken over, the original gang may leave booby traps in the property. These may not become fully apparent until the police or the landlord go in later.
Once a farm has been identified by the police the cannabis and growing equipment will be seized but it will leave behind a seriously wrecked property that will cost thousands of pounds to repair to get it back into a rentable state again.
Here are a few tips for landlords to try and avoid this happening to your property in the first place:
1. Watch out for tenants offering to pay 6 or 12 months’ rent up-front
Although there are some exceptions, most residential tenants simply don’t have access to that kind of money. This should put you on notice to investigate why they are making this offer and where the money is coming from.
2. Ensure that you obtain full reference checks on all potential tenants
The Tenant Fees Act 2019 prohibits landlords and agents from charging any fees other than those permitted by the Act. You cannot therefore charge the tenant for these checks but that doesn’t prevent you from paying for referencing checks yourself. It will be a small price to pay if it means that you avoid your property being destroyed.
3. Make contact with a couple of the neighbours who live near to your property
Give them your and/or your managing agents contact details and ask them to notify you of any suspicious activity or strong smells as soon as possible. Due to the nature of cannabis it has a very potent smell. Large quantities being grown can be smelt from quite far away and often from directly outside a property. This will benefit your neighbours as the last thing they want is to be living next to a cannabis farm. It will also be for their safety as fires in cannabis farms are quite common due to the amount of electrical equipment being used.
4. Inspect the property within the first two weeks of the tenancy commencing
Firstly, this is to confirm that the tenants detailed on the tenancy agreement are the same people who have moved into the property. Criminal gangs will often take out a tenancy in one person’s name and then install different “workers” to live and farm at the property. Secondly, the inspection will be able to determine if furniture and other belongings consistent with it being used as a normal residential home are present or not.
5. Ensure that there are then regular inspections of the property
For most landlords, apart from their own home, this is usually their biggest asset, so it is important to protect it as much as possible.
Hopefully these tips will help prevent your property being taken over and used as a cannabis farm. If you have any suspicions at all that your property being used in this way report it immediately to the police. Do not attempt to deal with the issue yourself. As detailed above these farms are run by serious criminal gangs so you should be very careful. There is also the risk that you may inadvertently stumble across a booby trap and find yourself seriously hurt or even electrocuted.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. This article may not be updated after it was first written even if the law in this area changes.It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. If you would like to make an appointment with one of our team to discuss this or any other matter, please call 01323 720142.