What steps can I take to protect myself against buying a former marijuana grow-op?
While the weather may not be ready to cooperate, next week’s official start to spring will be a welcome sign for green-thumbs throughout the province who are itching to get back out into their gardens. However, the truth is not everyone stopped ‘gardening’ over these colder than usual winter months. Marijuana grow-ops hide in plain sight and no community is immune.
If you’re in the market for a home, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what damage grow-ops can cause, how to recognize the signs of a former grow-op and the steps you can take to protect yourself from owning a property that may be hiding some potentially dangerous secrets.
A grow op can cause a broad range of structural and environmental impacts on a home. The warm and humid environment necessary for plants to thrive creates an equally ideal environment for mould growth, which will impact the air quality of the home and potentially cause structural issues. The home’s wiring will likely have been altered to handle the power demand and, in many cases, to bypass the hydro meter. These alterations may compromise the integrity of the home’s electrical system and can pose a serious safety hazard.
Before going on the market, a former grow-op might receive only quick, superficial repairs to cover up the significant renovations and damage associated with its illicit use. Those repairs may leave the home unsafe by hiding the mould, shoddy wiring and other issues that you won’t want to deal with in the future. The trouble is, the warning signs can be tough to spot.
So how do you protect yourself? You can start by deciding to work with a registered real estate broker or salesperson because they are obligated to take reasonable steps to determine and disclose material facts about a property that would affect a reasonable person’s decision to buy or sell a property; that includes inquiring about the status of the house as a former grow-op if that’s something you tell them you’re concerned about. Your real estate professional can help you navigate the process and ask the right questions, but chances are they won’t be qualified to report on the underlying condition of the home.
The best way to get an idea of any home’s condition is a home inspection. However, if a grow-op is suspected or known, it may take someone with advanced expertise to determine the impact and estimate the cost of remediation. Think about bringing in an engineer to look into potential structural damage caused by the grow-op, an electrician to examine the wiring and someone to check the air quality or presence of mould in the home. At a minimum, look for a home inspector that has expertise with grow-op homes.
While it’s best to get a professional inspection, here are some of the potential signs that a home may have been a grow op:
- Mould in corners where the walls and ceilings meet
- Unusual number of roof vents or vents in windows or other unusual locations in the home
- Fresh paint on window frames to cover damage caused by high levels of humidity
- There may be exterior stains caused by condensation on the siding or foundation of the home
- Painted concrete floors in the basement with circular marks where pots once stood
- Evidence of tampering with the electrical meter (damaged or broken seals) or the ground around it
- Patterns of screw holes on the walls
If you’re concerned about the home’s history, ask the neighbours about the property (maybe they noticed unusual activity) and try a simple internet search of the address. Some municipalities keep a record of known marijuana grow-ops, which may or may not be readily accessible. Doing some homework will help you make an informed decision on whether the house is right for you.Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.