Police are appealing for grassroots help from landlords to root out cannabis factories.
The plea for help comes after drugs squad officers up and down the country are raiding rented homes almost daily that are set up to farm thousands of cannabis plants.
Police say cannabis farming is booming during lockdown as landlords and letting agents have not checked rental homes due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Buy to let insurers also warn that many policies do not pay out claims for damage to rented homes if criminal activity is involved, leaving many landlords spending thousands of pounds to refurbish properties without any redress for compensation.
Britain’s most popular drug
Cannabis is Britain’s most popular drug, according to Ministry of Justice statistics.
The main drug offence recorded in 2020 – the latest year for which stats are available – was possession of cannabis, which accounted for 63% of the 175,000 recorded offences, which was an increase of 23% from the previous year.
Police in Merseyside recorded the most offences at 6.8 for every 1,000 people
Around 90% of the cannabis used in the UK is supplied from farms operating from rented homes.
More than a million plants with a street value of £210 million are seized by police each year.
Cannabis insurance claims go up in smoke
Cannabis cultivation in rented homes is a huge problem for landlords.
Criminal gangs taking on rental homes will bypass electric meters, install specialist growing facilities and pack as many plants into a property as they can.
In a recent case in Peterborough, a court heard a rental home converted to a cannabis farm had three bedrooms used as a nursery, the bathroom made into a hub for mixing fertiliser and watering the crop and the living room turned into a makeshift bedroom.
The electricity supply was bypassed, and the downstairs windows and external doors were barricaded to stop rival gangs breaking in.
Inside, police found more than 200 plants and process cannabis ready for sale worth £175,000.
This is a typical outcome for landlords when cannabis farmers move in. The result is rented homes need a complete refit costing thousands of pounds which is unlikely to be covered by insurance as most policies do not entertain claims for malicious damage.
Making a successful insurance claim
To make a successful claim landlords must show that they did as much as they could to stop tenants damaging their property and show that tenants passed a four-point reference check before moving in.
The first point to prove is that regular inspections were made to check the state of the home.
The second is that a four-point tenant reference was made, which covers:
- Proving identity – Two forms of photo ID, like a driving licence or passport showing the tenant’s current address
- Proving address – Ask for a current utility bill or bank statement which should bear the same address as the photo ID. The last three months’ bank statements should show pay going in and rent coming out.
- Credit check – Check to see if the tenant has no county court judgments or bankruptcy etc.
- Employer reference – A recent payslip or a note signed by a manager on a company letterhead confirming their job status and salary. Rent should be no more than 30% of the salary to ensure the tenant’s budget isn’t overstretched
Cannabis growing and landlords
If a landlord knows a tenant is growing cannabis on their property and fails to inform the police, technically they are guilty of an offence. The punishment depends on how much cannabis is involved but can range from 12 months to five years in jail and/or a fine.
Tell-tale signs of a cannabis factory
Cannabis factories are often unassuming homes in quiet residential streets, so how do landlords know if a rental property is in the hands of criminals?
There are some tell-tale signs to look for:
- Cannabis has a strong smell that is main clue for neighbours and passers-by to suspect they are living close to a secret farm.
- From the outside, windows will have condensation all year round due to high levels of heat that turn a home into a makeshift greenhouse due to the temperatures needed to grow the cannabis crop.
- Curtains, blinds and even bin bags black-out windows to stop neighbours spotting bright lights on 24/7
- Most farms have fans running all day and night to ventilate the property. The fans generate a constant buzz.
- Farming cannabis is a huge drain on the electrical supply to power the lights, irrigation and heating the plants need to grow. In most cases, crooks bypass meters to avoid huge bills.
- A cannabis farm sticks out like a sore thumb in the winter because the heat from cultivating hundreds of plants melts frost and snow on the roof while homes along the rest of the street are still covered.
- Growing, harvesting and then distributing cannabis is labour-intensive and can lead to people turning up at all hours.
What to do if cannabis farmers move in
Tell the police if you own a property that crooks are using to farm cannabis.
You can do this anonymously through Crimestoppers or by contacting your local police.