Cannabis farms: tell-tale signs and dangers for landlords

Cannabis farms are a growing problem for UK landlords. We run through some of the signs that your buy-to-let property is being used as a cannabis farm, and provide some tips for dealing with the problem.

Domestic cannabis farms on the rise

Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in Britain, with the cannabis market worth £1 billion. The latest Home Office Crime Survey (2015/2016) found cannabis to be the most commonly used drug in the UK, with 6.5 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 admitting to using it in the last year. This equates to around 2.1 million people.

Since the early 2000s, Britain has experienced a steady shift back to smaller residential and domestic premises for the cultivation of cannabis, as opposed to large-scale commercial and industrial properties.

The boom in domestic production is worrying for private landlords and letting agents, bearing in mind that the number of people renting from private landlords now outstrips those in council and housing association homes.

How cannabis farms can impact landlords

Landlords can face serious repercussions if their tenant is using a rental property as a cannabis farm. They could face prosecution, a jail sentence, or even have their property seized.

Landlords often suffer property damage too, including ceilings and walls knocked through, wiring ripped out, floorboards removed, furniture destroyed and water damage. A cannabis farm in the property also increases the risk of fire or explosion.

Signs that there may be a cannabis farm in your property

Making regular visits to the property throughout the duration of the tenancy is generally best practice, but is not always foolproof.

These are some of the signs you should look out for:

  • excessive fortification of the property (internal and external)
  • silver duct tape hanging out of windows
  • gas cylinders
  • bin bags filled with vegetation
  • a pungent smell
  • humidity - condensation on windows, peeling wallpaper, mildewed walls
  • sudden increases and decreases in electricity bills
  • electrical wiring that’s been tampered with
  • powerful lights on day and night
  • blocked out windows
  • unusual amount of activity when tenants first move in
  • large number of visitors (day and night)
  • excessive use of deodorisers and air freshener
  • bubble bags, self-seal bags, scales, flasks, beakers and rubber tubing
  • plants, lights and reflective materials
  • bulbs, soil, fertiliser

Tenant checks

Performing thorough checks on potential tenants is one of the best ways of avoiding this situation.

While a credit check can help landlords gauge whether a tenant is likely to be able to pay their rent, it can’t tell them other information, like whether the potential tenant is part of an organised crime group.

This is why an increasing amount of landlords are proactively harnessing the power of tenant history reports, to find out more about a potential tenant’s rental history and character before tenure.

It’s also a good idea to make sure that your landlord insurance includes cover for malicious damage, so that you’d be covered if you needed to make a claim for damage caused by your tenants.

About the author

Samii Boyd-Price works at Tenant Referencing UK. They provide a comprehensive range of tenant screening checks including free Tenant History Reports, based on data compiled from past landlords and letting agents. They also offer an online lettings portal, a live discussion forum and weekly articles aimed at encouraging better understanding, communication and relationships between landlords, agents and their tenants.

Have you ever suspected your tenants are running a cannabis farm? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

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