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A 'Grow House' is a nice house, on a nice street in a residential area just like yours that has been converted on the inside for the purpose of growing marijuana.  Larger homes are often used because the basements have more space for the operation, but any sized home will do.  From the outside, there are few signs of a grow operation, but on the inside there are many structural changes made to the home for it to be suitable for the cultivation of the plants.  According to the RCMP in 2002, there were 50 000 active grow houses operating in Canada, 10 000 in Greater Vancouver area and 15 000 in Southern Ontario, though they are found in any large city or small town across the country.

    
 

Grow House Operation Hazards:

Electrical: High intensity lighting is required to grow a proper harvest, which is very costly, so to cut costs, many operators by-pass the electrical system illegally and in turn 'steal' their power from the city and / or neighbours (possibly one of the reasons for the increase in hydro costs).  This is done by cutting into the basement foundation and directly tapping into the outside electrical lines so the hydrometer does not recognize its use.  This causes structural problems to the foundation as well if when the hole is ever repaired (likely improperly) the foundation may crack and leak.  Not only do the operators tap into outside hydro, but they also will rewire the home itself to add more power to the basement and subtract from the upstairs.  This can cause future shortages and possible electrical fires and electrocution for the current or future occupants of the home as well as power outages for the entire neighbourhood.

Structural: As mentioned above, holes cut into the home's foundation can compromise the foundation leading to water damage, a home's number one enemy.  Construction to provide proper ventilation and water supply is also of concern.  Many operators have the ventilation exhaust system going up through the home and out the attic.  Attic is considered 'outside living space' and should never have heat loss into it (especially 80%+ humidity levels).  This will eventually compromise the integrity of the attic and likely grow mould.  Exhaust fans added to the home improperly will also cause structural damage. 
  
Environmental: Chemicals used in the operation are noxious and improper disposal can lead to soil and water contamination on the property, affecting the surrounding neighbourhood.  These noxious gases can build up in the home or be vented to the outdoors, affecting neighbours as well.  Occupants living in the home (including children) will be exposed to these chemicals as well as the fungus produced.  The fact that a grow operation requires 80%+ humidity levels, and the average home should be at most 55%, mould will be prevalent in walls, insulation, floors and will be circulated throughout the home via the furnace and ventilation system (also now contaminated). 
Children: Although many operations do not have people living in them, across York Region in Ontario, Chinese and Vietnamese gangs are using young children and families as fronts for their marijuana operations. In sprawling suburban communities of trim green lawns, freshly painted garages and blooming flowerbeds, Children's Aid has seized more than 140 children in the past three years, some with marijuana plants in their closets. (Maclean's 'Orphaned By Pot', August 22, 2005).  They often are living in filthy conditions; having an old mattress on the floor for a bed, dirty clothing and mould infestation on their bedroom walls (not to mention noxious chemicals lying around to play with).  Poor electrical rewiring leads to many electrocutions to these poor kids as well.  Because health effects for mould exposure are not yet clearly defined, it is unknown the long-term effects these children will suffer.  The exposure to the chemicals used in the operations, however, is clearly defined; Dr. Gideon Koren, a pediatric toxicologist at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, states that nerve gas is made from the same organophosphates that are in the insecticides, leading to acute poisoning, respiratory, brain and gastrointestinal problems.
Crime: Most grow operations are in some way linked to violent and organized crime.  At most seizures, authorities find numerous weapons, booby traps set to protect the crop from outsiders, and easy access for children to buy marijuana on the street.
   

Signs To Look for In Your Neighbourhood:

  • Occupants are rarely seen, only for a few hours at a time, different people there each visit, or visitors showing up at odd times of the day or night
  • Windows darkened or covered up to conceal activities
  • Occupants bring in equipment such as lights, plant pots, fans, etc.
  • Hydrometer is tampered with, or holes dug around the meter
  • Strong odours come from the home.  Marijuana has a skunk-like fragrance, not easy to miss.
  • Unchecked mail, signs of neglect around the property (snow not shoveled, grass not cut etc.)
  • Little to no garbage put out on garbage day
  • May hear a humming electrical sound coming from the home
  • In winter, the roof does not have snow on it (from excess heat being vented into attic, warming the roof) or an unusual amount of steam coming from exterior vents
  • Windows are often barred, gates are chained, and guard dog signs are prevalent.

What Do You Do If You Suspect a Grow House in Your Neighbourhood?

Call your local Drug Enforcement Unit immediately.  Grow house operations take only a few months to potentially ruin a home - lowering the entire neighbourhood's property values and bringing crime into the neighbourhood.  Never try to investigate yourself or approach the occupant.  As mentioned above, these homes are often booby-trapped and occupants may be dangerous individuals. 
   

If Buying or Selling a Suspect Grow House:

What Should You Look For Inside The Home?

  • Painted concrete floors in basement with outlines of where plant pots once were
  • Signs of added roof / foundation ventilation
  • Concrete masonry patches inside garage (for added ventilation)
  • Alteration of fireplaces (to be vented directly from operation area to outdoors)
  • Patterns of screw holes in basement walls and floors (where temporary partitions once were)
  • Abundance of rust in and around furnace (from extreme humidity levels)
  • Remnants of topsoil in corners of basement floor
  • Added, redirected or blocked vents in the duct system
  • Visible signs of mould growth
  • Water stained walls / floors / windows from dripping condensation
  • Skunk-like odour in basement or throughout home
  • Added water piping in basement
  • Excess electrical wires hanging from basement ceiling with seemingly no purpose
  • Signs of previous extensive alarm or security camera systems

Agent Disclosure:   

Unfortunately according to the CREA (Canadian Real Estate Association), the selling and listing agents only have to disclose the fact that the home was once a grow house if one of the following four statements are true:

  • There is an actual material latent defect of which the vendor knows or ought to know;
  • The buyer asks a specific question or has a specific concern;
  • The agreement of purchase and sale contains representations that the property was not used as a grow house or for criminal activities;
  • There is some statutory requirement that this disclosure be made.

If none of the above criteria are met, the disclosure need not be made.  Therefore, as a buyer, it is in your best interest to ASK THE QUESTION.  Do not suspect something and not go with your instinct because the nice lady living there could 'never do something like that'.  It is best to have it put in writing in the purchase of sale, so there can be some recourse if there are future complications.   Even if in the end, however, the home turns out to be a previous grow house, and it was denied in writing, recourse can be very lengthy, time consuming and expensive.

How Do You Find Out For Sure?

Unfortunately, this can be of great inconvenience to you as a buyer.  The due-diligence is placed in your lap because primarily of the Privacy Act.  The Privacy Act inhibits the allowance of such information to be posted for public awareness.   Personal criminal records of the previous inhabitants are not made for release, and because residential addresses are considered 'private', the police will not give out such information on the home itself.  There has been some 'talk' about a 1-800 telephone number, which will be published for buyers to check for previous busts at a particular address, but at Home Heroes, we have still not discovered this information. 

There is also so much 'red tape' when it comes to a seizure to begin with, that although the operations are brought down, arrests are often not made.  The law states that an arrest can only be made if the occupants are there at the time of the bust.  If the landlord lives across the country, and had 'no knowledge' of the operation, they are off the hook.  If the tenant is out of the home when the police arrive, even if it is their only known address, they are off the hook because the police cannot prove their activity in the operation.  In the end, police often shut down the operation, but these criminals (although likely being watched) just start right back up next door.  This can affect the answer you get as a purchaser, because even if you found a figure of authority to check it out, there may be no record of it if there was no arrest.

At Home Heroes, we have dealt with numerous clients, who have purchased a home, only to find out shortly after moving in that it was a previous grow house.  In our experience, 99% of the time, this information comes to light FROM YOUR NEW NEIGHBOURS!  They were there when the odours were noticed, they may have been the ones to call the authorities, and you can guarantee that they and the rest of the neighbourhood were there when the bust happened!  When buying a home, it is always a good idea to check out the neighbours to make sure your family is going to be living in an area with kids of like age, or similar backgrounds and lifestyles, properties kept well, etc.  Neighbours know everything!  Although you may not take neighbourhood 'gossip' as law, it is a great place to start!  A 'nosy neighbour' just may help you make or break one of the most expensive or unhealthy decisions of your life!

Checking back in local archived newspapers for any seizures at that particular address may lead to something if you can't get the information from the authorities.  Real estate agents local to the area for some time will also be of help.  There is no harm in asking a third party agent if they know anything.

If You Are Considering the Purchase of a Known Grow House:

Unless major repairs are made to a marijuana grow house, the home is often ruined and deemed as non-inhabitable, lowering property values of surrounding homes.  The one and only benefit of buying a known grow house is that the price will be reduced.  If you are a handy family looking for a fixer-upper to work with, this can be ideal for you.  At Home Heroes, however, we recommend NOT TO DO IT ALONE.  Before acting on the purchase, we recommend six steps be taken with respect to above hazards mentioned.

  • Professional Home Inspection
  • Attic Inspection by a certified building scientist
  • ESA (Electrical Safety Authority) Inspection
  • Foundation Repair Expert
  • Licensed HVAC Specialist
  • Indoor Air Quality Assessment

These six specialists will give certificate clearance for their respective industry standards and can price out the cost of necessary repairs.  According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the average claim to repair a grow house is $60 000 - $80 000, so be prepared to spend much time and money to do it right and safely.

If someone in your family suffers from environmental sensitivities, please call today to learn how to minimize VOC's in your home, or if you are renovating or moving into a new home, ask us how you can accelerate the off-gassing process of new materials using the Ozone Treatment.
   
 
 
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