Sadly, we live in dangerous times. We not only have to be careful of shoddy plumbing jobs, leaky roofs and shifting foundations, but we must also check for dangerous and illegal uses of our potential homes. Don't be fooled into thinking that only houses in rougher, low-income areas harbour drug operations: Many marijuana Grow ops are located in middle to upper class suburbs.
How to avoid buying criminalized property
In British Columbia, Canada for example, it has become common to hear about police uncovering rental properties producing large amounts of drugs—unbeknownst to the property owners. Meth labs have also been found in homes, apartments and even hotel rooms. The repercussions to the owners can be both financially and emotionally devastating. Grow ops cause an immense amount of mould and permanent structural damage, not to mention contamination. Meth labs use dangerous chemicals that cause explosions, fires and toxic vapours that permeate the building walls and flooring. Social ramifications include dangers to children playing in nearby areas where meth lab chemicals and paraphernalia are dumped. Grow ops also increase risk of violent crime as rival gangs and criminals break into drug houses and forcefully steal crops.
As a landlord and member of the community, here are some steps that you can follow to avoid buying a drug house. An additional note: Some investors specialize in the niche market of reclaiming drug houses. By working with environmental reclamation specialists and repairing the homes they can (in some cases) bring them back up to livable standards—and make a tidy profit.
Tips For Buyers, Landlords and Property Managers:
- If you're working with a Realtor, pull history on the property to see if it has changed hands frequently and if it was used as a rental. By law it is required that identified drug houses be listed as such, but it may not be a known fact. If you suspect something fishy, ask neighbors, check with the police and use a home inspector that has experience in checking for such activity.
- Drug labs and grow ops operate in the city, rural areas, farms and warehouses. Look for suspicious dump sites along roadsides, in yards and around buildings. For meth labs you may see an unusual amount of chemicals and solvents such as: acetone, brake cleaner, toluene, rubbing alcohol, drain opener, camp fuel, paint thinner and gasoline additives. Another telltale sign is an excess of cold remedies—empty wrappers and boxes containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine are common ingredients.
- Telltale signs of Grow ops include mould and moisture staining, unsafe wiring and unusual piles of garbage containing fertilizer containers, pots and soil left behind. Also look closely if the water tank or chimney has been re-routed or if windows have been replaced with vents. Sometimes the problems have been hidden: Fresh touch-up paint around baseboards and in the basement may cover holes drilled to prop up plants, and newly added drywall may cover mould and makeshift grow rooms.
- Ensure that you screen your tenants well. Take 2 copies of photo ID and run a credit and reference check. Have a rental agreement that outlines who is living in or using the premises.
- Check your property regularly. Speak to the neighbors and take note of any suspicious activity. For Grow ops, look out for: exposed wiring, high-intensity lamps, rewiring and bypass to electric supply, excessive moisture, windows that have been covered with heavy curtains and moist with condensation. You may also notice frost build-up on the eves and vents during winter, 'skunky' smell and unusual traffic at the home at odd hours.
If you suspect illegal activity, go to the police and have them investigate.