Communicate to accumulate – avoid being targeted by cannabis growers
Worrying figures show a rise in the number of commercial cannabis farms in the UK. Although the rise has stabilised somewhat, 7,865 cannabis farms were identified nationally in 2011 and 2012, an increase of 15 per cent from 2009 and 2010.
Unfortunately, many cannabis growers choose to cultivate their crops in properties within the private-rented sector. In fact, the NLA Advice Line receives regular calls from landlords who have experienced cannabis farms in their properties, and it is a growing problem.
Whilst Police are working with private landlords to tackle this illegal activity, landlords should be vigilant and follow best practice to avoid being the victim of drug crime.
By following these steps, landlords can help prevent their property being used for criminal activity:
- Carry out thorough tenant checks on potential tenants. NLA Tenant Check is a professional referencing service which carries out comprehensive credit and background checks. These will highlight any abnormalities that should set alarm bells ringing.
- Don’t take six months’ rent up front – it could be a sign the tenant wants to be left alone to engage in illegal activity.
- Communicate with your tenants and check on the property often. This should be done quarterly where possible but be sure to give the tenant sufficient notice.
- Get to know the neighbours around the property and ask them to keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
Landlords should look out for the following signs of drug cultivation:
- Strong smell of deodourisers or air fresheners to disguise the smell of drug production
- Lights being left on all day and night and curtains and blinds drawn
- A sudden jump or fall in electricity bills
- Possible rewiring of the property
- High humidity in the property
- People coming and going at the property at odd times of the day
- Safety hazards. Properties can become a fire hazard because of amateur electrical wiring and the heat involved in the production of the plants.
It's important for landlords to remember that the onus is on them to know what is going on in their property; if not they may find themselves responsible for utility bills, or facing huge repair bills if their property is used in the production of illegal substances.
Importantly, many insurance policies are rendered invalid when criminal activity takes place in a property. The landlord often has to foot the damage bill, which can run into the thousands of pounds, regards of whether they knew what was taking place in the property.
Landlords can also be criminally liable if they are aware that illegal activity is taking place and they do not report it to the police. Remember – don’t challenge the tenants. If suspicious, call the police. A false alarm is better than no alarm.
Hazards associated with this activity can include fire and structural damage, caused by crime groups who do not care about the most basic safety concerns, with the mere intention of maximising profits.
Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association, says:
“Cannabis farms are a continual threat to landlords and despite carrying out the necessary checks, we regularly hear of cases where landlords’ properties are used for illegal purposes.
“To help limit the risk of rented properties being used as cannabis factories, the NLA advises landlords to take full references from their tenants, avoid taking long term rents up-front, check on the property often and get to know the neighbours in the area and encourage them to report anything suspicious.”