Is your property being used as a cannabis farm?

Cannabis farms are an increasingly significant problem. Landlords across the country are finding that their properties have fallen victim to the unscrupulous activities of cannabis growers.

Many landlords simply do not think about this risk. There seems to be a sense that most presume it will never happen to them. But new figures from insurer Aviva suggest that cannabis farms are on the rise.

So what can you do to help protect yourself and your property?

What are the dangers to my property?

Cannabis farms pose a number of potentially significant dangers to your property. Apart from the fact that your property is being used for criminal activities, there are several ways in which your property could be physically damaged.

Electrical fires are amongst the primary causes of damage. The owners of cannabis farms often bypass the electricity meter, and this can result in some pretty crude wiring. This is prone to fire.

Wires and pipes are often pushed through makeshift holes in walls, and this can result in major cosmetic and structural damage. These pipes often leak, causing potentially serious water damage.

Finally, it is not uncommon for owners of cannabis farms to simply set fire to a property in order to cover their tracks. If they believe that a police raid is looming, they may choose to burn the evidence. This can obviously cause significant damage or full-scale destruction of a property.

How can I spot a cannabis farm?

Aviva have identified a few common factors amongst landlords who find that their properties are being used for cannabis farms. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it should help you to identify potentially suspicious tenants.

According to Aviva, properties being used for cannabis farms are often characterised by:

• Cash payments for rent, or a single payment to cover the entire tenancy
• Three- or six-month tenancies
• A failure on the part of the tenant to provide bank details
• Constantly drawn curtains or blinds
• A pungent smell, often reported by occupants of neighbouring properties

Cannabis farms are, of course, designed not to be spotted. As such, it is highly likely that you will only find out that your property has been used in this way once the tenants leave. But Aviva believe that the number of landlords falling victim to these activities is increasing, so it is important for you to be on the lookout.

How can I prevent this happening to me?

Given the difficulty of identifying cannabis farms, it might seem that there is very little that landlords can do to combat the problem. But there are a few key steps that you should consider taking in order to minimise the risk of falling victim to cannabis farmers.

To begin with, you should make sure that you properly vet all of your tenants. Simply asking for references is not enough – make sure that you follow them up. Similarly, make sure that you take the tenants’ bank details, and insist that all payments are made by bank transfer. In the case of short-term lets these checks should be even more vigorous.

Where possible, you should also make sure that internal property inspections are carried out regularly. Many landlords shy away from internal inspections during a tenancy, but as long as sufficient notice is given, and this is agreed in advance of the tenancy starting, you are completely within your rights.

It is worth remembering that there seems to be little rhyme or reason to cannabis farmers’ choice of property or area. Many perfectly ‘respectable’ areas have been found to play host to cannabis farms, so do not presume that you are not at risk.

Sadly, there is no foolproof way of preventing your property being used in this way. As a result, it is vital that you are properly insured. Damage caused by a cannabis farm can be very costly, but a good landlord insurance policy will protect you from this expense.

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