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Avoiding A Cannabis Farm

How can landlords avoid having their rental property turned into a ‘cannabis farm’?

Landlords who think that because they let to ‘respectable tenants’ will avoid having their buy-to-let property turned into a cannabis farm may be operating under a misapprehension. This is because many operators use ‘Front Couples’ to start off the tenancy according to the latest police reports.

Cannabis farms use rental properties let from unsuspecting landlords which are then converted to make them suitable for full scale cannabis production. These farms often operated by criminal gangs will involve large scale alterations to the property including removal of walls and changes to the electricity supply. The result is often tens of thousands of pounds of damage to a landlord’s property.

Recent estimates indicate that costs to UK landlords could soon be approaching £200 million a year.

An increasing problem for landlords.

Across the country police forces are reporting increasing numbers of cannabis farm discoveries. A recent post in Property Hawk refers to how the number of farms found by Gwent police had increased from 5 a year to 151 over a 5 year period.

They are not alone according to reports by the BBC.

Cost to a landlord

The costs to a landlord of inadvertently housing a cannabis farm results from the physical damage to their buy-to-let property.

Cannabis farmers are pretty merciless. The damage the water supply, often rip out walls and electricity meters to allow meters to be bypassed in an attempt to avoid the attention of authorities who may be alerted by unusually high levels of energy and water consumption.

In 2007 Norwich Union settled on 60 claims totalling over £1million which related to property being used for cannabis cultivation.

At an average of £17,000 per claim there are many landlords who suffer damage way in excess of this.

One of the UK’s leading landlord insurance brokers recently warned landlords that their experience is that the average claim is nearer £40,000 and that landlords need to take very seriously their management responsibilities if they are to avoid being landed with the entire clear up costs.

In some cases landlords have not received a penny from their landlord insurance company either because they had inadequate cover or the landlord insurance company proved a lack of vigilance by the landlord. One way to insure that a landlord does not fall fowl of this is to carry out documented regular inspections of their buy-to-let property.

Tell tale signs.

Gwent police have put together things for landlords to watch for to help them identify if their rental property has been turned into a ‘drugs factory’.

They advise landlords to keep an eye 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.

How to avoid being scammed

The smartest thing a landlord can do is to avoid being scammed by the cannabis farmers in the first place.

Nottinghamshire Police have produced an excellent guide called ‘Keeping illegal drugs out of rental properties.’ highlighting how landlords can do this.

Firstly, it draws a landlord’s attention to the following indicators that should make a landlord suspicious of a tenant:

1. A tenant’s willingness to pay rent months in advance in cash
2. A tenant’s tendency to pay in cash without any visible means of financial support.
3. Repeated requests from the tenant for the landlord not to visit the property.

They also outline some steps a landlord should take that should deter criminals including cannabis farmers from renting a landlord’s buy-to-let rental property in the first place:

1. Use a form of photo identification of 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. Require 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.

Because of the use of a ‘Front Couple’; people often appear to be genuine and respectable tenants. After they have taken possession they disappear without trace. Landlords should therefore revisit their rental property a few weeks after initial occupancy to check that the original tenants are still occupying the property.

Landlords are facing increasing challenges to their letting businesses. The latest one appears to be how to prevent their property being ‘high’ jacked by the cannabis farmers. The good news for landlords is that careful management should minimise a landlord’s chance of falling victim to this practice.

Has your property been turned into a cannabis farm?

I put my property on the market to rent. I had potential tenants, 2 male and one female of Asian Origin. I checked photo IDs of their hong kong driving licences etc. They had the deposit all ready and the rent was agreed at £550 per month.

I told them that I would be inspecting the property on a monthly basis, they came up with the excuse that there will be a woman here and we don’t want you coming to inspect the property. I assured them that a female would come and inspect if that is the case.

They then said if you don’t inspect the property we will give you £700 per month; that sent alarm bells ringing. I said I can’t accept that as its far too high for the property. I then returned their deposit and thye knew they had been caught out and out of embarassment they wanted me to keep half of the deposit which I refused.

After they left they called me again offering £1000 per month if I dont visit which I declined and the then apollogised and hung up. – Khalid

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