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Canadian Neighborhoods Threatened by Illegal "Grow Houses"

Written by on Monday, 05 August 2002 7:00 pm

Ontario real estate professionals were cautioned in the July issue of the Ontario Real Estate Association newsletter, Realtor Edge, that they must "DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE!" when it comes to grow houses -- properties used in the illegal cultivation of marijuana. This warning highlights how much buyers and sellers have to risk in transactions concerning properties that will become, or have been, grow houses.

A grow house is a home-grown marijuana operation set up in a small house that is owned by one person and rented by another to use as a "greenhouse" for illegally growing marijuana. The grow houses usually consist of an illegal electrical hook-up, masses of hydroponics equipment, a fortune in marijuana plants and virtually no furniture. Police emphasize that grow houses exist in every type of neighborhood, particularly in affluent areas, and that these illegal operations are spreading rapidly.

The menace of criminal operations in the midst of residential neighborhoods is accentuated by the risk of fire. Grow-home operations are dangerous because electrical meters, fuses and circuit breakers are usually bypassed in the process of stealing large volumes of electricity. There have been several house fires caused by faulty wiring of the powerful grow lamps. Brown outs and black outs triggered by these operations often lead to their discovery.

Recently, CBC News reported that grow house operations consume more than $500 million in stolen electricity each year in Ontario alone. These costs are added to the hydro bills of legitimate energy users.

The Ontario Real Estate Association’s caution to its members should be understood by home buyers and sellers intent on avoiding hassles and legal complications when buying or selling real estate:

  • Buyers must be cautious since former grow houses may have structural problems due to modifications made for the purpose of stealing hydro or maximizing hydroponic growing area. These houses may also contain fire or health hazards caused by fertilizers and other chemicals or air-quality contamination from molds nurtured by high humidity levels.

  • Grow house owners are rarely charged because they usually plead ignorance of the intentions and activities of their tenants, but they may be stuck with huge hydro bills for their tenants’ stolen electricity or discover that their insurance claims for property damage are turned down.

  • Property managers, including real estate brokers, may be held liable for renting out houses that are converted to illegal operations.

  • Sellers of former grow houses must rely on real estate professionals to properly disclose the past use rather than incurring liability by attempting to hide this criminal history.

    Police across Canada fight to combat these criminal operations, but their resources are limited. Last January, police officers from municipal, regional, provincial and federal forces banded together in Project Greensweep to raid grow houses in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan in a concentrated attack on illegal marijuana production. More than 100 grow homes were raided in Ontario alone. Police seized over 46,000 plants, made 136 arrests and laid almost 300 charges, but they are the first to admit this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Criminal organizations have so many grow-house operations that shutting down one or two hardly affects their profits. Police report that an average marijuana operation can yield up to four crops a year, valued at over $1 million.

    Contact your local police department or real estate broker to find out how you can help keep grow houses out of your neighborhood.

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      About the author, PJ Wade

    Individual news stories are based upon the opinions of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of Realty Times.