A landlord’s guide to avoiding illegal drug cultivation in rented properties

A landlord’s guide to avoiding illegal drug cultivation in rented properties

Figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers suggest around 20 new cannabis farms are discovered every day by police across the UK and in recent years, most have been found in unassuming rented residential houses including a number in Southend-on-Sea.

Increase in smaller operations

Criminals are moving away from large cannabis farms in commercial warehouses to multiple smaller factories, typically in rented houses. This allows the criminal to spread the risk of detection and potential loss of income; if one farm is discovered there will be others left in operation. There is currently no uniform definition of a commercial cannabis farm but it is described by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) as one with 25 plants or making use of sophisticated lights and hydroponic equipment.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 a landlord or Property Manager can receive a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or a fine if they allow the production of controlled drugs to take place in rented accommodation. Under this legislation there is also the potential for a premises to be seized or forfeited. Landlords can also be prosecuted for money laundering offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Disturbingly, new varieties of cannabis are being introduced, which only take two months to mature, rather than the common 12 weeks. This means scheduled quarterly checks by landlords or agents may miss the cultivation process. A routine check may be too late and could uncover an abandoned property in a state of considerable disrepair. Converting premises into a cannabis farm can cause substantial damage including removal of walls and changes to the electricity supply. The consequence is often tens of thousands of pounds of damage to a landlord’s property. As a result, the illegal trade is creating serious insurance implications, and landlords in Southend should take some sensible precautions to protect their property.

Tell-tale signs

A landlord or local Letting agency should be suspicious when:

  1. A tenant is very keen to pay rent months in advance, in cash.
  2. A tenant pays in cash without any visible means of financial support.
  3. There are repeated requests from the tenant for the landlord not to visit the property.

How to deter a criminal tenant

There are also other actions that should discourage criminals including cannabis farmers from renting a landlord’s buy-to-let rental property in the first place:

  1. Insist upon a form of photo identification for potential applicants such as a photocopy of their passport or drivers licence.
  2. Ensure identification is genuine.
  3. Watch for telephone, water, gas, and electricity accounts in different names
  4. Insist upon more than one type of identification for joint applicants.
  5. Check prospective tenant’s current address.
  6. Obtain prospective tenant’s mobile numbers and car registration.
  7. Properly reference and credit check the tenant.

Independent advice from the Essex Police urges landlords to watch out for:

  1. Tenants who seem to have a collection of chemistry equipment when moving in.
  2. Blacked out windows at the rental property.
  3. Powerful lights left on for long periods of time.
  4. Sudden jump or fall in electricity bills.
  5. Tenants wanting to put deadbolts or alarms on interior doors.
  6. Strange smells.

Not only can a cannabis farm wreck a rental property in days, it can also be hard to claim money to pay for repair on an insurance policy. Insurers offer a variety of reasons for refusal to cover the costs of a claim, from landlords not taking sufficient care of their property and infrequent checks, to the house being used for commercial purposes.

It is not unusual for insurers to turn down a claim if a landlord cannot prove they have visited the property regularly or failed to carry out sufficient background checks on tenants. Our advice would be to always check with an insurer that it covers cannabis factories before signing on the dotted line.

If your property is fully managed by Pace, your position should be protected. We carry out rigorous referencing and regular visits which will help stop the problem starting, and provide a due diligence defence should the worst happen.

We are happy to offer half an hour of face-to-face advice, free of charge, to local individual considering becoming a landlord.

Please telephone and ask to speak to Marcus or Crystal on 01702 445 606.

Marcus James is Lettings Manager at Pace Plc, an independent Southend on Sea Letting Agent. He deals with every aspect of the property letting process, providing expert and candid advice together with tailor-made marketing plans for each property he lists for rental.

Marcus prides himself on ensuring our landlord clients get the best return in the right timeframe for their investments by conducting rental appraisals, letting viewings and oversees the running of the lettings department.

    Pace Property Lettings & Management Ltd
    South Essex Landlords and Property Investor Network
    No Selective Licensing
    Pace Sales


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