[RIGHT]November 17, 2006
City plans to weed out dangers of dismantled pot grow ops to homeowners
By JON WILLING, OTTAWA SUN
**An Evidence Control officer with the Ottawa Police removes marijuana plants from a grow-op at 45 North Harrow Drive in Barrhaven on Thursday February 19,2004. (Errol McGihon/SUN)**House buyers have a bud in Ottawa now that municipal staff are drafting policies that will tip people off to former marijuana grow operations.
Bylaw enforcement manager Linda Anderson has been tasked with developing the city’s approach to making sure dismantled grow-op properties are safe for the next family.
“We think we’ve established the best way to do this,” Anderson said, but details of the plan are hush-hush while city staff confirm the details.
Grow ops can leave deadly health hazards for those moving in after the crooks have left. Mould and chemical residue often attach themselves to a home used to grow pot.
Under new provincial legislation, police can order building inspections for marijuana drug dens.
SAFE TO LIVE IN
Anderson said the city is looking at two ways it can make sure a former grow-op building is safe for habitation if the home requires fixing.
For one, the city could send in its own contractors and bill the property owner.
The other method would involve the city placing an order on the title of the home. If a lawyer acting for the home buyers searches for any liens on the property, the order would come up and the city would explain the reasons.
“That’s a way to protect the public when buying these homes,” Anderson said.
Officials from bylaw, planning, building and health departments have joined the Ottawa police in developing the plan. It’s possible that home buyers in Ottawa will soon have a portal where they can learn where police are busting grow ops.
After the Ontario privacy commissioner allowed similar information-sharing this year in York Region, Ottawa drug unit Staff Sgt. Marc Pinault said police here are pursuing ways to get grow-op details to the public.
The drug unit uncovers roughly 50 grow ops a year, but with the addition of 10 new investigators on the squad, that number could grow since the unit will have more cops devoted to organized crime, including marijuana growers.
“That’s why we have to make sure we have the resources to address these issues,” Anderson said. “We need to find an efficient but safe way of dealing with it.”
While the local cops are exploring an information-sharing system, the province is also working on a similar database of drug houses.
Anthony Brown, spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said a provincial registry is currently being considered by an expert committee.
KNOW THE GROW
What others in Canada are doing to let the public know where grow ops have been:
- Calgary: The Calgary Health Region recently began listing condemned former grow ops online.
- Guelph: Each grow-op bust is listed on the Guelph police website, including the exact address and how many plants were seized.
- British Columbia: The B.C. Real Estate Association includes information about past marijuana operations in the Property Disclosure Statement.
How to spot a marijuana grow operation:
- House has a “not lived in” feel: Many grow operations do not have people living inside them.
- Unusual visitor behaviour: Inconsistencies in visitors to and from the residence, ranging from no visitors giving the appearance of seclusion, to frequent visitors for short time periods.
- Covered windows: Covered with white plastic, heavy curtains pressed against the windows or blinds that are tightly shut and pressed against the windows. These window coverings will never be opened.
- Condensation: Humidity inside a grow room is approximately 65% with temperatures above 30 C. These conditions cause condensation on windows and walls that result in mould, mildew and rot.
- Smells and odours: Skunk-like odour mixed with a sweet vegetative smell or the unique smell of rotting cabbage. Also, the odour of mothballs or fabric softener is frequently utilized to mask the smell of the operation.
- Sounds: The sounds of humming fans can be heard because the air inside the growing rooms needs to be vented outside. The air may be vented through the chimney, into the attic, or even into the sewer system. In addition, the sounds of construction late at night could be an indicator.
- Localized power surges: Neighbourhood residences experience unexplained power surges or power “browning” (decrease of power which dims lights and slows down appliance use) with the return of normal power flow approximately 12 hours later.
- “Beware of Dog” signs: Used to deter trespassing, protect against theft and detection by police.
- History of premises: Residence or commercial premises have been used as marijuana grow operations in the past. Many of these rental properties are known among the criminal element as having been used for growing marijuana then repeatedly used again.
Source: Ottawa Police Service