Tenants Growing Cannabis in Rented Properties
Article Posted - 20th August 2019
How to avoid renting to cannabis farmers
Potential cannabis farmers don't fit into a neat criteria that will make them easily identifiable before you agree a tenancy and, in some cases, they will appear to be model tenants. From the perpetrator's perspective, growing cannabis in a rented property allows them to blend in and they will go to great lengths to secure an ideal property.
Therefore, you need to take precautions and exercise a level of judgement to ensure that you are not caught out. A good start is ensuring that you undertake robust reference checks - the first step in spotting potential red flags.
We would encourage getting references from previous landlords and current employers. Typically, tenants without a chequered past would be forthcoming with such information and reluctance to do so should treated with scepticism. NLA members benefit from discounts with NLA Tenant Check who can complete referencing on your behalf.
Savvy operators will prey on your desire for secure income and could offer to pay rent in advance – often as much as six months' worth of payments. Such offers should be treated with great care especially when they are offered as a cash payment.
What to look out for
When it comes to confirming or disproving your concerns about your tenant being a cannabis farmer there are a series of indicators which, collectively, should get the alarm bells ringing. These include:
Neighbours' reports of unusual behaviour – such as tents in the garden (as the property is too hot or humid to sleep in), antisocial behaviour, or a lot of activity at unsocial hours
Offers to pay rent upfront, large deposits, or cash payments – tenants will want to deter landlords from visiting the property or asking questions
Unusual smells – although cannabis plants may be hidden away in a loft, the smell is difficult to mask
Atypical condition of the property – such as blacked-out or steamed-up windows, intense lighting (typically 600W) for long periods, and extra ventilation equipment. These could be observed without actually going inside the property
The tenants routinely refuse you access to the property – it's important to conduct regular visits to your property, and it's a good idea to do this in the first three months of the tenancy. You must give tenants at least 24 hours' notice of your visit – and they have the right to refuse entry. However, continued refusal should raise concerns.
Cannabis farming requires large amounts of water, heat and humidity – which can prove a costly mix, with a high risk of electrical fires or flooding. It can take just three months for cannabis to be raised to cultivation – so early inspection of the property is vital.
I think my tenants are growing cannabis - what should I do?
So, you thought you had the ideal tenant that had passed all the checks, but now you have suspicions that you may have been duped. The best course of action is to start building a bank of evidence, based on a tenant's use of the property and its overall condition.
A good start involves speaking to neighbours and enquiring whether they have noticed any unusual activity at the property. This approach is by no means full proof, but it provides you with some valuable context to inform your investigation.
The next step would be providing your tenant with notice so that you can do a routine inspection. Legally, you must provide at least 24 hours' notice ahead of a visit, but a tenant can refuse you entry.
Keep records of repeated failed attempts at gaining access to the property for an inspection, without the tenant providing reasonable grounds. This may be crucial if you end up pursuing possession proceedings. If tenants do allow you access, we would urge you to proceed with caution because tenants may react unpredictably if they feel threatened.
Note any evidence of fixtures, fittings or alterations that you suspect are being used to help cultivate cannabis in your property – such as ventilation or light fittings or attempts to bypass the mains electricity.
If you do have evidence of criminal activity, contact the police. It's important not to put yourself in any danger by trying to deal with the issue yourself.
Will my insurance cover me?
Insurance claims can be tricky at the best of times and we would advise you to contact your provider and confirm the cover available under your policy. Some insurers would want to see evidence of due care of the property, with a log of inspections and reference checks undertaken. Others may not cover damage caused by criminality at all.
Ultimately, you need to know what is included in your policy if the worst was to happen. Damage can run into the tens of thousands and footing such an unexpected bill is not worth the risk, so be clear before agreeing a policy what the terms and conditions are.
It's important that all landlords have specialist landlords' insurance, as normal household insurance does not usually cover property you have let out. NLA members benefit from discounts on landlord insurance policies from NLA Property Insurance.
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