‘Spot the grow-op’ no easy game for homebuyers
Prospective buyers still at risk despite efforts bylawmakers to increase transparency
By Susan Burgess, CBC NewsPosted: Oct 05, 2017 5:30 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 05, 2017 5:30 AM ET
Available information about former grow-ups varies from oneOntario jurisdiction to another after a private member’s bill by Ottawa MPPLisa MacLeod to create a provincial registry of the properties died. (RCMP)
Homeownerlearns too late she bought a former grow-op
Landlord payshigh price for renter’s medical marijuana grow-op
Police bustalleged basement grow-op network in west Quebec
Police bustNepean grow-op, seize $300,000 worth of marijuana
Langley seeksnational standards for fixing grow-op and drug lab homes
Landlordsfear property values will go up in smoke with marijuana legalization
The story of a woman in Limoges, Ont., whounwittingly bought a former grow-op highlights an ongoing challenge forhomebuyers, experts say.
‘My heart was in my stomach’:Homeowner learns too late she bought a former grow-op](http://cbc.ca/1.4307923)
Home inspectors in Ottawa contacted by CBC saidhomebuyers in this city have also fallen for properties that once housedmarijuana growing operations, in some cases because they were so anxious toclose a deal in a hot market that they bought without conditions and passedon an inspection.
Claudette Charron bought her fixer-upper bungalow as aninvestment, but the former grow-op has cost her $30,000 so far in cleanupcosts. Experts warn other homebuyers are at risk, including in Ottawa.(Claudette Charron)
“They’re waking up and smelling the coffee later on,when they realize there are issues,” said Paul Wilson, who’s worked as abuilding inspector since the 1980s.
Withered plants in the attic of one home suggesteda grow-op a few owners back, Wilson said. While that kind oflegacy might not cause the new owner too much hardship, other aspects ofa grow-op’s legacy are more difficult to live with.
No provincial registry of former grow-ops
“There are issues like mould in the walls. A lot ofthem have structural issues,” said Matthew Thornton, vice-president ofpublic affairs and communications with the Ontario Real Estate Association,which represents the province’s 70,000 realtors. "The grower will tamperwith wiring or drill holes in the foundation to vent the grow-op, thatkind of thing.
“A lot of people don’t know that they’re buyinga grow-op, and that’s a problem.”
In 2013, OREA supported a private member’s bill by OttawaMPP Lisa MacLeod to create a provincial registry of former grow-ops.
That bill died, which means information aboutformer grow-ops still varies greatly from municipality to municipality.
Some homeowners in Ottawa have unwittingly purchasedgrow-ops because they agreed to forgo an inspection when buying a home,according to home inspector Paul Wilson. (CBC)
City of Ottawa tracks grow-ops busted by police
Ottawa seems to have more information available than most.
Ottawa police publish a listof grow-ops they have dismantled, and they alert the city clerk to bustslarge and small, according to Beryl Brownlee, a program manager in thecity’s planning services department.
An Ottawa bylaw requiresthe property owner to vacate the home after a grow-op is discovered.To be allowed to return, they must remove grow-op material andequipment, and repair all related damage under the direction of a professionalengineer, all at their own expense.
The city’s order to comply with the bylaw is attachedto the property title, a public document that can be viewed at the landregistry office by anyone who might want to buy the house.
After repairs are completed and the home passes inspectionby the city, however, discovering the house’s former grow-op statusbecomes more difficult. The city’s order is removed from the title, so to turnup evidence of that history at the land registry, the prospective buyer musttailor their search to include deleted documents, Brownlee said.
Police say they also remove the house from their own onlinelist of dismantled grow-ops — which explains why a Google news search ofOttawa grow-ops turns up many properties that aren’t on the police list.
Black mould and damage inside a grow op house. (Western SiteTechnologies Inc.)
No bust, no public record
The bigger risk to homebuyers is the grow-ops that aren’tfound by police.
If an owner discovers a tenant or relative runninga grow-op on a property, he or she might simply shut it down and makerepairs on their own.
Real estate agent Peggy Blair advises prospective buyers tochat with neighbours to find out more about a property, including whether itonce housed a grow-op. (peggyblair.wordpress.com)
“There’s no paper trail. You don’t know what’s behindthe walls,” said Peggy Blair, an Ottawa real estate agent.
Prospective buyers also shouldn’t assume that the agent forthe seller will inform them about the former illegal operation, according tothe Real Estate Council of Ontario, which regulates real estate professionals.
“If the property has gone through remediation and thereare no lasting impacts to the structure of the home that was formerlya grow-op, then the seller is not required to disclose the property’shistory,” said spokesperson M. Daniel Roukema in an e-mail.
A concerned buyer can still have his or her realtor ask theseller’s agent specifically about grow-up activity, Blair said.The seller is not permitted to lie in response to a direct question. Buyers canalso talk to neighbours.
Blair knows first-hand about the information neighbourscan offer. She lived across the street from a grow-op herself, andsaid she and the home’s other neighbours in Westboro had suspicions long beforepolice turned up, thanks to clues such as curtains that were alwaysdrawn, and the resident’s oddly panicked reaction to a temporary break inwater service on the street.
Tear it down, home inspector advises
Home inspector Peter Weeks seconds Peggy Blair’sadvice to talk to neighbours.
Even home inspectors don’t always spot the signs of a formergrow-op, Weeks said, because a typical inspection doesn’t entail breaking intowalls.
And while he’s taken a specific course on identifyingformer grow-ops and drug labs, many others haven’t, he said. Thatsituation is unlikely to change even with upcoming licensing requirements fromthe province.
New bill regulating Ontario homeinspectors lauded by industry as ‘terrific’ news
If interviews or an inspection do turn up evidence ofa grow-op, Weeks said he recommends moving on — even if the propertyhas been remediated.
“The guys who fix them up do it in all sincerity, butthere’s still problems,” Weeks said. “There’s mould behind the wallsthat you can’t see.”
He recently advised a young couple against buying a homethat was formerly a grow-op, he said. Their realtor hadn’t alerted them tothe fact, but they called him for an inspection after their own Google searchof the address turned up the history.
“If that house has been a grow-op, there’s reallyin my opinion only one solution,” Weeks said. “Tear it down.Start again.”
Think about resale: realtor
If a break in price makes the purchase tempting anyway,then consider the resale potential, Blair said.
Removing the home from the police list of dismantledgrow-ops doesn’t magically erase its reputation with the public, she pointedout.
So a deal on the property now may not seem so sweetlater, when a future buyer comes looking for a similar break, armed with thesame bad news about its history.