Landlords should beware of cannabis farms

The extraordinary story of former Bath Tory councillor Donal Hassett who used false names, references and cover stories to rent homes to create a network of cannabis farms is a reminder of the problem this can be for landlords. Read the full story here

Cannabis farms in rented accommodation have been a problem for landlords for several years. Criminals spread farms around multiple locations to ensure that production continues even when one farm is discovered and closed. It is this need for multiple locations which leads the criminals to rented or squatted property.

For landlords, the discovery of a cannabis farm can be devastating and frightening. Under S.8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 a landlord (or anyone managing the property) can receive a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or a fine if they knowingly permit the production of controlled drugs to take place in rented accommodation. Arguably, “knowingly permit” could include turning a blind eye to the production of cannabis to ensure that their rental income continues. A further complication for landlords is that they could then find any rental income received seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Landlords and their agents should therefore take steps to minimise the risk of cannabis cultivation in rented accommodation. Some signs to watch out for include:

• Tenant’s paying a large amount of rent up front;
• Tenant’s refusing or making excuses to prevent regular inspections or restricting access to parts of the property during inspections

Landlords should always carry out regular inspections or instruct their agent to and should look out for:

• Strange smells;
• Excessive heat;
• Blacked out or sealed windows;
• New ventilation units;
• Signs of meter tampering.

If there is a suspicion that cannabis is being grown at the property landlords should not address the matter directly with their tenant but should report it to the police. The landlord is then advised to serve the tenant with a Section 8 notice.

If the police discover a cannabis farm they will attempt to arrest the tenant and the landlord will need to co-operate with any investigation. Unfortunately, while removing the cannabis plants from the property the police will often leave behind the pots, soil, heat apparatus and any other paraphernalia connected to the cultivation of the cannabis. This can leave the landlord with a substantial clean-up bill and a lengthy delay prior to gaining possession.

Despite the tenant’s conduct, landlords cannot simply take back possession they will need to wait for a county court order for possession upon the expiry of the Section 8 notice. Where all the tenants have been arrested, and are not to be released on bail then landlords may be able to treat the property as abandoned however, prior to taking any steps in this respect legal advice should be sought.

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