Pubdate: Wed, 23 Mar 2005
Source: Almaguin News (CN ON)
Copyright: Almaguin News 2005
Author: Laurel J. Campbell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


ALMAGUIN: "House For Sale: Previous Marijuana Grow Operation, Any Offer

For sale signs like this could soon spring up in the real estate
section with the increasing prevalence of in-house grow operations. A
property, such as 6 Anderson Street in Sundridge, has been estimated
by neighbours as having sold last year for a price of approximately
$140,000, but today it may be un-saleable and is almost assuredly

"I would seriously doubt you could sell that house if your life
depended on it," said Powassan Century 21 real estate broker Debbie

"For one thing, if the operation has been there for any length of
time, the house will never pass an inspection (due to the possible
presence of mould as a result of the heat and humidity needed for
maximum plant growth). Secondly, the vendor is required by law to
disclose that the house has been used for an illegal purpose. These
are not the sort of details most people want when they purchase a home."

Bill Moore of Callander, an engineer and house inspector, said, "If
there's a whole bunch of mould, then it's almost impossible to get
out. If the operation's been there long enough and mould has permeated
the walls, then all you can try to do is strip off the drywall and
insulation, take it right back from basement to roof and literally
rebuild the house from the inside."

Fans and excessive heating used in grow operations "just puts the
mould right into the drywall and through to the insulation," Brown
said "It's my understanding that you would not be allowed to list such
a house for sale until you could prove all the mould was eliminated."
Brown suggests that if you own a house where a grow operation has been
ongoing, "that home will have no value and no insurance coverage and
would best be torn down and rebuilt."

Sundridge lawyer Michael A. Hardy agrees. "Probably the best you could
hope for would be that the building gets struck with lightning," he
said. "As a landlord, you could bring a class action suit against the
renters, but as criminals we assume they are in jail, and unless you
can prove they have assets other then those acquired from illegal
activity, they have no money to compensate you with."

Hardy suggests that perhaps the property could be sold for its value
as a building lot, provided the purchasers were aware of the
building's history. "You might find someone willing to do the repair
work themselves in order to acquire an economical home, if you were
lucky," he said.

But even with a major renovation, chances are slim a former grow
operation house will ever be insurable.

"Current insurance policies are excluding both mould and grow
operations specifically," said Powassan insurance agent Armond
Despres. "These exclusions list fungi, spores and (production and
growth of ) controlled drugs and substances."

While Despres says many of his customers laugh when he points out
these exclusions, "you would be lucky to find one company in 100 that
doesn't currently list these, and even if you did, I would suspect by
the time the policy is up for renewal, these clauses will have been
added. They are becoming a standard in the insurance industry."

Those landlords who find themselves in possession of a grow operation
house "are literally out in the cold" when it comes to insurance, he
said. "I know that grow operations have caused major damage in what
had been very expensive properties."

And while other uninsured disasters like earthquakes may result in
government assistance for home owners, "I'm pretty sure the government
isn't going to help you out in the case of an illegal drug operation,"
Despres said. "I think you would have to consider the structure a
total loss."

While health implications from mould in homes is a concern of the
local health units, they only become involved when requested and each
home is evaluated on a case by case basis.

In cases where the home owner is directly involved in the grow
operation, the health unit is not involved, explained North Bay and
District Health Program Manager David Brown.

"Health units are concerned with public domiciles, homes that are
being rented, where at the request of the tenant we would provide a
risk assessment based on the extent of the structural presence of the
mould and risk factor that mould presents to the specific individuals
living in the home," Brown said. The health unit makes no distinction
between mould resulting from the indoor production of marijuana plants
and mould generally found in homes for a variety of other reasons.

Health unit documentation says that the most common types of mould are
generally not hazardous to healthy individuals. However, people who
have asthma, hay fever, or other allergies, or have impaired immune
systems because of other conditions, are more likely to be affected.

The most common symptoms are nose and eye irritation, cough,
congestion, and aggravations of asthma. In most day to day
circumstances, mould exposure can cause allergic and irritative
symptoms in the respiratory system, and not serious, life threatening
or long-lasting effects.

Rick Tass of the North Bay OPP says officers are concerned about the
affects of a grow operation environment. "As an officer who has
attended these scenes, I can tell you that there's a lot of moisture
that results if the operation has been there for a substantial amount
of time," he said. "You can feel the moisture in the air and you can
smell the mould even with the smell of the marijuana."

In fact, police fear of grow operation exposure has resulted in
Canada's police chiefs calling on the federal government to launch a
study into the health effects on officers who attend at grow operations.

The chiefs claim that large amounts of moisture in the confined spaces
of these operations create and encourage the growth of many
micro-organisms in addition to mould. Grow-ops use large amounts of
pesticides and fungicides to keep plants healthy and between the mould
and the poisons, they say it's not hard for someone exposed to these
operations to get seriously ill and claim that long-term exposure to
some of these pesticides can cause cancers, nervous-system disorders
and breathing problems.

But as South River real estate broker Chris Hundley points out, "A lot
of the damage has to do with the extent of the grow operation and how
long it has been going. In some places, the severity is limited and
locally, most of the operators have bought the house" and are
therefore solely responsible for the property's future.

No one contacted by Almaguin News could estimate how long a grow
operation would have to be ongoing before mould damage would be
considered extensive.

"In many cases these operations are backed by a lot of money," said
Hundley, making property values of little interest to the property
owner when compared to the potential income of the operation.

In cases such as this, the property could become the responsibility of
the municipality. "Depending on the situation, the municipality could
always assume the property for the back taxes," said Hardy.

However, it then falls on the municipality to assume the liability of
disclosing illegal use in the event of resale which would trigger the
insurance exemptions...and the cycle continues.

For landlords, Hardy advises the best protection "is to be as
scrupulous as possible, scrutinize all potential tenants, check
references, drop in on them at their current place of residents,
anything to protect yourself."

Above all, he suggests those in the rental housing business "don't
margin yourselves to the point where you can't afford to have a home
vacant for a few months," he advised, "because when you have to rent
to the first person who comes along, that's when you stand a good
chance of being stung."
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