Recent statistics suggest that cannabis is Britain’s most widely used illegal drug, with the entire cannabis market said to be worth £1 billion.
As concerning as these figures are, you may also be wondering what the connection is between the demand for cannabis and your life as a landlord.
Unfortunately, unbeknown to you, there could well be a connection, as there has been an increasing tendency since the early 2000s for cannabis to be cultivated in relatively small residential or domestic premises, rather than on large-scale commercial and industrial sites.
That means your own property could be at risk of becoming the site of a cannabis farm – so what can you do to identify and deal with this deeply unwelcome problem for many landlords?
Why should you be concerned about a cannabis farm in your property?
The consequences of your property being used to cultivate cannabis could be dire indeed.
There is, first of all, the legal angle – allowing any property that you own to be used for the cultivation or supply of cannabis is against the law, as outlined by section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971.
Furthermore, you may not have been aware that if you allow cannabis to be cultivated, produced or supplied from premises for which you are the landlord, you could be hit by the same penalties as those actually conducting the activities. That could mean an unlimited fine, a prison sentence of up to 14 years, or both.
There is also the risk of having your property seized, and even if the outcome is the best one possible in the circumstances, the whole business of being arrested, questioned by police and appearing in court can make for an extremely stressful and unpleasant several months.
Nor have we even yet mentioned the financial ruin that you may face due to the resultant legal costs and loss of rental income, or the physical damage that can be caused to your property by someone using it for a cannabis farm. Examples of the latter may range from ceilings and walls being knocked through, to destroyed furniture, water damage, floorboard removal and the ripping-out of wiring.
How to detect the potential presence of a cannabis farm
A cannabis farm is easily recognisable from inside a property, on account of such characterising features as its green plants, irrigation systems, lighting and ventilation fans.
However, if the tenant is not permitting you to access the property, there are still some telltale signs that you may be able to pick up from the outside, such as:
- A strong and sickly sweet smell
- People arriving at and leaving the property at all times of the day and night
- Strong lights visible through chinks in the windows or under doors
- Equipment such as ventilation fans or lighting racks being taken into the property
- Condensation on the windows
- Blocked out windows
- Bin bags filled with vegetation
- Constant whirring noises from ventilation and extraction fans
How should you react if you discover cannabis is being cultivated at your property?
While none of the above signs in isolation serves as conclusive proof that a cannabis farm is present at your property, several of them may give you sufficient reason to sound the alarm.
If you do suspect that cannabis is being cultivated at your buy-to-let property, it’s essential to immediately call the police. You are strongly urged not to attempt to tackle any of the occupants yourself, given that they are likely to be hardened criminals involved in serious organised crime, and may therefore pose a risk to your physical safety.
When you do ring the police, offer them the keys to your property and let your insurers know as well. Unfortunately, not all landlord insurance policies protect you against malicious damage caused by your tenants, and even those that do so may set a maximum limit on any settlement payable – about £5,000 is a typical figure.
With tenants cultivating cannabis known to cause potentially thousands of pounds of damage to a property, the onus is therefore on you to act fast to minimise any potential legal, financial and personal damage to you, your property and your livelihood as a landlord.
Bear in mind, too, that an insurer may refuse to cover the costs of repairs to your property if you haven’t been conducting regular inspections. This makes it especially important to scrutinise your insurance policy to ensure you will be covered.
Evicting a tenant who has been growing cannabis
Once it has been established that your tenant has indeed been cultivating cannabis in your property, you will be able to serve the necessary notice to bring the tenancy to an end.
An eviction notice can be issued under the Housing Act, 1988. The cultivation of cannabis is a criminal act, which provides sufficient grounds for the issuance of a Section 8 notice, this often being a quicker alternative to a Section 21 notice.
A possession order can often be made and the tenant evicted by a judge immediately – in which case, the tenant may also be expected to pay court costs.
By following the above steps and acting swiftly in response to the discovery of a cannabis farm in your property, you can quickly deal with such a serious, dangerous and illegal situation while minimising the financial, legal or personal costs that you may face as a landlord.