Pubdate: Thu, 21 Jan 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Linda Stansberry


According to the latest Humboldt County Economic Index, local home 
sales have dipped slightly, while mortgage prices have risen. Median 
home prices - while at nowhere near pre-recession levels - have been 
climbing steadily since 2012, when your financially secure friends 
were snapping up starter homes for pennies on the dollar. And quite a 
few would-be home owners are watching those rising costs and waiting 
for the deus ex machina of legalization to help realize their dreams. 
Balloon payments garnered from a good year's harvest aren't generally 
factored into housing analyses, but common sense dictates that the 
economic vacuum created by a sharp dip in black market prices might 
mean quite a few former growers won't be able to keep up their home 
payments. And if the shape of the housing market is in question, the 
shape of the houses on the market is going to be equally questionable.

Stories of local buildings repurposed for illegal agriculture range 
from the benign to the horrific. For every smart sinsemilla farmer 
with a low-impact garage grow, there's a renter from hell who is 
turning his or her landlord's property into a mildew-wracked tear down.

One tenant - who asked not to be named - moved into a former grow 
house under duress, as she and her partner had struggled to find a 
place that would take their many pets. The problems included holes in 
the walls and ceiling where ventilation had been, staples in the 
walls with black plastic stuck to them, walls warped from high 
humidity and a mildew problem that sent her to the emergency room.

"If [landlords] don't care whether or not a house is being grown in, 
they probably don't care enough to fix it up afterwards," she says.

How prevalent are current and former grow houses? One home inspector 
- - who also requested anonymity - says that around 50 percent of the 
foreclosures he sees have evidence of grows. These foreclosures, 
which realtors have seen an uptick in recently, may be the canary in 
the coalmine for the intersection of the marijuana industry and the 
housing market.

Barry Smith, owner of Barry Smith Construction, says that remodeling 
grow houses has become an "ongoing issue" in his field. Poorly done 
vents into sub areas can cause rot and fungus damage and allow entry 
points for termites and rodents.

"The big challenges we find are the amount of unpermitted and unsafe 
work that we find," he says, adding shoddy electrical work to the 
laundry list of issues that are often present. "Electrical has always 
been manipulated in one way or another with different levels of 
competency and safety. I had one where they cut the floor covering 
out, put down plastic and put dirt right on the floor. We had to gut 
the place due to water and flood damage."

According to contracting websites, a ballpark figure of the costs to 
re-wire, re-floor, re-insulate and do mold abatement on a 1,200 
square foot structure is between $50,000 and $75,000.

Even after the smell of bud has been cleared from your new home, its 
reputation can linger. Eureka Police Department Capt. Steve Watson 
has lots of practical advice for homeowners worried about would-be 
thieves in search of guns, cash and grass. Rip-off artists often look 
for the same things as cops: drawn shades, condensation on the 
windows and the sound of industrial strength fans. He suggests 
getting to know your neighbors and emphasizing that the property is 
under new ownership.

"Home invasion and robbery are a very real risk with grow houses. My 
experience is that for every one that is reported there are several 
that go unreported," Watson says, adding that victims rarely speak to 
the police.

Cases of innocent neighbors or new homeowners troubled by home 
invasions are not everyday occurrences, but nor are they rare, 
according to Watson.

"Sometimes the thugs hit the wrong house by mistake - either based on 
old or faulty intel or plain human error," he says.
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