Beginning in 1990 marijuana grow operations, or grow-ops, have been part of the culture in BC. In the early ’90’s, when the problem first became obvious, the integrated enforcement approach was adopted by the various police forces and a concentrated effort to get rid of them was embarked upon. In 2001, 455 grow-ops were discovered and dismantled, and that number has declined every year since, with fewer than a hundred being dismantled in 2012 in Metro Vancouver.
While the favorite place to grow marijuana has changed from individual residences in populated areas to industrial buildings in remote areas, there are still growers that operate in rental properties and apartments.
How do you detect them? What do you do when you confirm one in your building? What can you expect of the police? Where does the city fit into this? How much is it going to cost you?
I’ve spoken with three owners that have entirely different experiences. I’ve spoken with the Vancouver Police, and with Vancouver City Hall to find out the answers. Here’s what I found out.
The landlord had one suite that had remained vacant for more than a month, and the building manager was anxious was rent it as soon as possible. The normal checks weren’t done, and the new tenant moved in and immediately set up a grow-op. There were complaints from the adjoining tenants about noise and smells emitting from the apartment so the building manager contacted the tenant and indicated that he was going to do an inspection. The tenant told the building manager that that wouldn’t be possible because she had changed the locks. This was obviously a major red flag, and the building manager immediately issued a 24 Hour Notice to Enter, but because the tenant wasn’t around, it was deemed to be received in 72 hours, or three days. In that time the owner of the building contacted the Vancouver Police Department, (VPD) and a locksmith and they entered the suite to find 298 marijuana plants.
The owner was lucky in this case. The tenant, while flagrantly violating the law, had actually been very careful in creating her grow-op, and there was no major damage, aside from altering the electrical and drilling holes in the walls. The owner contacted the insurance company to make a claim and was reminded that insurance companies began exempting damage from grow-ops from their policies about ten years ago.
The owner was required to cover the costs for all the repairs and lost two months rent.
The landlord was alerted to water dripping into a suite and under the emergency provisions of Section 29 of the Residential Tenancy Act, and detailed in RTB-107, entered the suite to find a grow-op. He called the police, and they showed up immediately, posted a guard while they retrieved a search warrant, and in six hours had declared it a crime scene. The plants were removed and the police left. The landlord was then required to remove all of the remaining equipment and dispose of it at his cost. He was also required to have the suite inspected and re-permitted for occupancy under the “Re-occupancy Permit Process” as mandated by the city. When summing up the costs for the experience the owner calculated that cost him $7,000 to $10,000 between the inspections, repairs, lost rent, and wasted time.
The landlord was advised by neighbors that there was “something fishy” with the new tenant. The landlord peaked in through the mail slot and found that the tenant had set up a grow-op. Instead of calling the police, the landlord took matters into his own hands, and called the tenant at work. At first the tenant denied everything, but after the landlord laid out his options, the tenant cleared out his plants and equipment under cover of darkness, and left the suite clean and undamaged. The landlord had the suite professionally cleaned, and because of the way the timing worked out, didn’t lose any rent from the experience.
While the police consider a grow-op to be a crime, it’s may take a considerable amount of time for an investigation to move from the initial report. When I spoke to the police they indicated it can take from two days to two months, depending on the workload of the officers assigned to that beat, the amount and quality of evidence, the schedule of the courts, and other mitigating factors. Once the warrant is issued, the police will be in and out very quickly, removing the plants and any illegal equipment in a few hours, but they will leave behind everything else, plant tables, furniture, and debris.
The constable I talked to also made one last important point. Just because the tenant has been arrested, that doesn’t mean that their tenancy is automatically ended. As a landlord, you still need to comply with RTB regulations to evict the tenant under Residential Tenancy Act, s. 47 Landlord’s Notice: Cause, which can take upto three months to complete.
Once the police have completed their work and removed the plants, the municipality with jurisdiction is informed and the landlord must work with the city to make the rental property ready for re-occupancy. In Vancouver, the process requires the landlord follow the following steps.
First the site must be cleaned to remove any pests, any materials used in connection with the grow-op and the abandoned furniture and other items. Second, if there is any mould present the landlord must remediate using a certified contractor, and then hire a environmental consultant to test the air quality and write a report that is to submitted to the city. Third, the landlord must apply for a a special inspection permit that costs$1162.50 that will bring four city inspectors to the site and they will provide a letter up to two weeks after the inspection that details the problems that need to be taken care of. From there, you need to pull the appropriate permits, do the repairs, and have the city re-inspect the property. Once the rental property has a clean bill of health, you can then apply for the re-occupancy.
The entire process can cost thousands of dollars and take months: detection, removing the plants,evicting the tenant, inspection, repair, and re-occupancy.
In speaking with the city, the police, and landlords, the advice that all of them gave boiled down to this:
1. Be rigorous with your tenant screening. When a tenant gives you a phone number for an employer, look the phone number up in the white pages or on-line. Often tenants will give you the phone number of a friend that is working in collusion with them to create a false identity.
2. Ask for a passport or valid drivers license.
3. Follow through on contacting past landlords.
4. And probably the best deterrent of finding yourself with a tenant starting a grow-op is to let the prospective tenant know that you have a policy of monthly inspections for all new tenants, as allowed under section 29 of the Act. Knowing that you are a diligent landlord is the best defense against illegal agricultural activities.
Grow-Ops and the Landlord