A campaign warning buy-to-let landlords of the dangers of inadvertently renting to cannabis farmers is to be funded by the Home Office after it was revealed that drug dealers are using such homes to cover their tracks.
The campaign will be run by Crimestoppers and will launch this summer. “It is a growing problem,” said Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association. “A lot of people find themselves in serious trouble. Their properties are trashed and they have to put a lot of time and money into bringing them back into rentable form. Many insurance policies are invalid if a criminal act has taken place.”
In one recent case, a 79-year-old woman — who rented out her home in Watford after moving to Somerset to care for her sick brother — was alerted by a neighbour that police found a cannabis farm during a raid on her property.
And in January a landlord of a property in Wealdstone called the police after becoming suspicious about the activities of his tenants — officers found 100 cannabis plants being grown there.
Landlords who discover their property is being used to grow cannabis face serious consequences, both financial and legal. Typical damage can include holes knocked into ceilings and walls to support lighting apparatus, as well as floorboards being ripped up.
Properties may suffer water damage from leaking hydroponic systems, and fires can be caused by faulty wiring or overheating. Electricity meters are routinely tampered with to stop them accurately recording the amount of electricity used, leaving landlords liable for huge bills.
There are also legal implications. Last month, Justin Griffiths, 31, from Southampton, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service after failing to report tenants of an investment property he owned. He was also ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £1,600 at Southampton crown court.
Howard Lester, director of Balgores Property Group, said landlords must carry out exhaustive reference checks on new tenants.
Lambert added that rented properties should be checked on regularly for strange smells. If tenants show a reluctance to allow access to the property, and curtains are drawn day and night, it is time to call in the law.