Pubdate: Sat, 25 Nov 2006
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell and John Duncanson, Staff Reporters
Note: MAP archives articles exactly as published, except that our
editors may redact the names and addresses of accused persons who
have not been convicted of a crime, if those named are not otherwise
public figures or officials.


'Extremely high vacancy rates' and single hydro meters make highrises
hot locations for marijuana growers, say drug officers

With Toronto's vacancy rate near an all-time high, apartment buildings
have become a hot location for marijuana growers, police say.

It's among the theories why a 13-storey building at 2600 Jane St. had
22 units over nine floors filled with pot and the equipment used to
grow it.

No sooner had drug squad officers finished their work at 2600 Jane St.
yesterday morning -- they seized 6,000 plants and almost 14 kilograms
of dried marijuana -- when they drove around the corner to 2020
Sheppard Ave. W. to another highrise and another grow-op, this time in
a 12th-floor unit. Officers dismantling the operations at 2600 Jane
obtained a search warrant after finding keys to the nearby apartment.

The two buildings have different owners but something in common: lots
of empty apartments. That makes them targets, say police.

"The trend we are seeing is they are using apartment buildings because
of the extremely high vacancy rate -- and availability," said Det.
Sgt. Dave Malcolm of the Toronto Police Service drug squad.

Nearing an all-time high, the average vacancy rate in 2005 was 3.7 per
cent in Toronto, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.'s
most recent survey.

Yesterday, drug squad officers at the second building unloaded a
shopping cart filled with light bulbs, small fans, timers and
electrical equipment into a white van, along with several large brown
bags filled with bright green leaves.

Police said the superintendent of the Jane St. building was one of
three people arrested so far, though officers continue to probe how
such a complex drug enterprise could exist under the noses of 700 residents.

Asked why residents didn't figure it out, given the size of the
operation, Staff Insp. Don Campbell replied: "We asked some of the
people (who said) because of the ventilation system they didn't detect
it. As soon as we disconnected it, they say it was evident marijuana
was being grown."

Police also released a video showing the lengths the producers went to
to grow their dope, which is rising in price because of increased
police crackdowns.

"I think the disregard for all the decent citizens living in the
building is something that seriously aggravates the seriousness of
this crime," Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said yesterday.

A contractor familiar with highrise buildings in the GTA said
yesterday he believes some landlords stuck with a surplus of empty
apartments have become "lackadaisical" in their "screening processes."
Low interest rates, a booming housing and condo market, and an
increased supply of rental units have caused the glut.

Another draw for growers is that many apartment buildings have a
single hydro meter for the entire building, enabling extraordinary
electricity use without ready detection.

But Brad Butt, president of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association,
rejects the idea that a high or low vacancy rate accounts for more
growers turning to apartments.

"Nobody wants this," he said yesterday. "There's no advantage to the
landlord to have this kind of thing discovered because the unit now is
going to be vacant for many, many months while it gets cleaned up ...
It's a hugely expensive issue for our industry."

After a grow-operation is discovered in an apartment, Toronto Public
Health must inspect it and give the okay before it can be rented again.

When these discoveries are made by police, invariably it's the
landlords who are the victims, said Butt. In 2005, Toronto police
busted 250 grow-ops and are on track to do the same this year.
Grow-ops have also been discovered in private condominiums in Toronto.

Mike Chopowick, manager of public policy for the Federation of Rental
Housing Providers of Ontario, said there are varying standards for
screening would-be renters.

(redacted), 47, the Jane St. building's superintendent, is charged
with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. (redacted), 35,
is also charged with that offence, five counts of producing marijuana
and five counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking. (redacted).
46, is charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence,
producing marijuana, and possession for the purpose of trafficking.
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MAP posted-by: Derek