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Looking out for cannabis farms in your properties

Looking out for cannabis farms in your properties

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It probably goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of landlords are upstanding and law-abiding citizens. Nevertheless, there are circumstances where even the most careful of landlords might be caught out and find themselves on the wrong side of the law – and their insurers to boot.

An illustration of this is in the use of a rented property for the illegal cultivation of cannabis – a so-called cannabis farm.

The landlord and the law

The law may be expected to take a particularly dim view, of course, of your knowingly letting your property to those who are cultivating cannabis there.

You are likely to be prosecuted with the full weight of the law and therefore face the long-term stigma and difficulties of a criminal conviction, a hefty fine, imprisonment – or all three.

A Crime Stoppers guide points out that the Misuse of Drugs Act (Section 8) imposes a fine and/or a prison sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment for anyone allowing the cultivation of controlled drugs in privately let accommodation – and the Proceeds of Crime Act gives ground for the prosecution of landlords for the recovery of laundered money and other assets;

Wilful abuse of a property for such illegal activity is the exception rather than the rule, of course. The majority of landlords who face the problem have done so unwittingly – and pay the price for repairing the extensive damage likely to have been done, and potentially without the protection of landlord insurance.

The landlord and insurance

Literally thousands of cannabis farms are detected each year in the UK. It is a matter of simple statistics that at least some of the cultivation of that Class B drug is taking place on privately rented property.

Quite apart from the finger of suspicion pointing at you for knowingly breaking the law, there is the prospect of untold damage to your property as it is turned into a cannabis farm:

  • holes may be punched through walls to provide pipes for irrigation and power for arch lamps;
  • windows might be boarded up against prying eyes;
  • furniture and other contents may be broken up, removed or otherwise destroyed; and
  • the whole process of cultivating large plants inside your property causes extensive damage.

Just as alarming is the fact that even damage caused on this scale might not be covered by your landlord insurance. A report in the Mirror newspaper on the 10th of September 2015, for instance, related the predicament of one landlord who had his claim rejected because the damage caused by an illegal cannabis farm was classed as malicious damage – a risk not covered by the particular form of insurance he held.

The exclusion of such risks in landlord insurance policies that make this clear has also been upheld in complaints made to the Financial Ombudsman.

The lesson, therefore, is to ensure that the landlord insurance you choose is one that also covers malicious damage caused by your tenants. Do note, however, that the policy limit for the malicious damage element may still not be enough to cover all the damage. Therefore you might want to consult a specialist provider of landlord insurance in order to ascertain your cover options.

Some tell-tale signs

Although it might be difficult to spot whether your let premises are being used as a cannabis farm, there are nevertheless a number of tell-tale signs:

  • have you – or any of the neighbours – noticed that powerful lights seem to be turned on all hours of the day and night;
  • if you have access to them, have electricity bills shown sudden changes in the amount of energy being consumed;
  • does it seem that electrical wiring within your property has been interfered with;
  • have you – or the neighbours – detected strong and unusual smells coming from the property;
  • do these include what appear to be excessive use of air fresheners or deodorising agents;
  • is there evidence of unusually high humidity in the property – in the form of misted windows, mildew on the walls or peeling wallpaper, for instance;
  • have attempts been made to black out the windows;
  • is there duct tape protruding from window frames;
  • have you noticed unexplained equipment that has been suspended from the ceilings; and
  • has the general level of security of the property – both inside and out – been raised to an unusually high standard.

If there is any doubt at all in your mind, therefore, that your let property may be being used for the cultivation of cannabis, you might want to contact your local police immediately.

To safeguard your property against the extent of malicious damage caused by those responsible, you might also want to ensure that your landlord insurance policy provides adequate cover for all forms of malicious damage.