Pubdate: Mon, 25 Mar 2013
Source: Simcoe Reformer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 Sun Media
Author: Maryam Shah
Page: 2


Tin foil on the windows, children's toys that never seem to move from 
their spot in the front yard and neighbours who don't seem to live in 
the home they own.

These are just some of the signs of a marijuana grow operation 
residents should look out for in their neighbourhood, police repeatedly warn.

According to a 2007 Royal Canadian Mounted Police report on drug 
offences, 60% of offences related to marijuana production occurred in 
a residence.

And an Ipsos Reid study in 2012 - prompted by the Ontario Real Estate 
Association - said almost a quarter of Ontario residents have "seen 
or know of homes in their neighbourhood that have been used as a 
marijuana grow operation."

No one wants to live in a mouldy ex-drug lab. A past history of drug 
production can lower a property's value for years by 15-20%, and make 
home insurance a pain to maintain.

That's why Markham realtor Cathy Innamorato did not buy a grow-op 
home, despite the fact that it had been remediated, leaving little 
concern for mould.

A conversation with her insurance company left her walking away from 
the home, she said, because she ran the risk of increasing premiums 
in the future.

"And you have no recourse," Innamorato said. "So because of that I 
decided against purchasing this property."

Despite remediation - the process of eradicating mould and other 
damage done to a building following it's use for illicit drugs - a 
grow house never truly shakes its drug-related stigma, she added. 
Remediation reports often don't guarantee the home's condition 100% 
and insurance companies are reluctant to accept them.

"How is the buyer protected?" Innamorato said.

A central grow-op registry would have all grow-op houses listed, 
making it easier for realtors to be open and for buyers to be 
confident of their purchase.

The Ontario Real Estate Association repeated its call for the 
registry in early March, supporting Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa 
MacLeod's recently tabled Clandestine Drug Operation Prevention Act.

"I think that there's an appetite to protect our community and also 
crack down on this illicit activity," MacLeod said.

The theft of hydro is a major related concern, as house grow-ops 
steal energy by rewiring, often risking electrical safety.

MacLeod said law-abiding customers wind up footing the bill for 
dollars lost to hydro theft.

"It's quite significant, its a cost to our communities," she said.

One man has made stigmatized properties his personal mission.

Barry Lebow, a GTA realtor and an expert in real estate stigma, said 
grow-ops can become long-lasting problems for homeowners and 
landlords when they try and sell their property in the future.

"Do you realize how many houses are stigmatized in this province?" 
Lebow said. "Because the law is that there's no such thing as a 
statute of limitations on stigma in Ontario. It has to be reported forever."

While he makes it clear he dislikes stigmatizing properties for 
housing as few as three or four marijuana plants - therefore causing 
no damage done to the home - he agrees a central registry disclosing 
grow-op homes ruined by organized criminal behaviour can help 
realtors and buyers.

"Where there's been a professional criminal organization, that's 
where I draw the line," Lebow said. "We have to quantify what they 
did to the house."

There should be a difference between a home where a person has grown 
pot for recreational uses without touching the structure, and a home 
that has to be gutted after a massive grow operation, Lebow said. 
Because the two aren't the same.

"Therefore you have a problem on your hands because you're 
stigmatizing people for something that really shouldn't be 
stigmatized," he said.

Lebow said he knows the impact of grow-ops on property owners. He's 
heard many stories of landlords who have returned to find tenants 
have ruined their investment homes by running grow-ops. They take a 
huge loss of up to 20% in property value.

"Most of the houses that I've come across ... have been hardcore 
blue-collar people who have bought a house, put all their money in, 
and find out that they've got a 20% loss in value across the board," 
Lebow said. "Nobody can afford it but these people (can afford the 
loss) even less."


Signs of a marijuana grow operation in your neighourhood:

Strange smells coming from a house People using unusual side/garage 
doors to enter a house Hydro meters that show signs of tampering 
People limiting their stay at a house for a few hours Blacked out or 
boarded windows, with condensation noticeable from outside Grass that 
is not maintained regularly Fast-melting snow on the roof

Source: Toronto Police Service

When looking for homes to buy, here are some signs of a house once 
being a grow-op:

Dented front door (from police raids) High number of roof vents 
Abnormal electrical wiring on the outside Newly-painted window 
frames, hiding past damage from humidity Mould present in wall-ceiling corners

Source: Real Estate Council of Ontario
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom