Residential property owners need to be vigilant, with cannabis farming on the increase, warns Norwich Union

Article date: 12 June 2008

Residential landlords may not be covered if their property is damaged by tenants using it for cannabis production, warns Norwich Union.

Mike Colmans, underwriting manager, property owners, Norwich Union, said: "As with most insurance policies, the duty of care element means a landlord must protect his investment and minimise his losses. This means it is important to be aware of the warning signs and make sure all ‘reasonable precautions' are taken."

The increasing numbers of premises being used to produce cannabis have enabled some common trends to be identified.

Damage to a property can be substantial as a result of cannabis farming, warns Colmans: "The tenant normally tampers with the electricity to bypass the meter in order to cover up the increased usage level and this greatly increases the risk of fire.

"There is also a risk that the tenant could be tempted to start a fire deliberately to cover their tracks if there was a threat of a police raid. 

"Aside from fire, cannabis factories cause major physical damage to a property, from holes made to pass cables through walls to significant water damage due to leaking buckets and pipes."

Landlords need to carry out some key actions to minimise the risk of a property being used for these purposes and to ensure ‘reasonable precautions' have been taken to avoid it.

Colmans continues: "Vetting the tenant is of course essential. Landlords should carry out extensive background checks, including checking bank details, as well as insisting that references are provided. Don't accept payment for rent in cash but, instead, insist it is paid through a bank. 

"Also, be wary if a short-term let is requested, and discourage any sub-letting. Once the tenant is in the premises, carry out regular inspections, both externally and internally if possible.

"We would recommend employing a letting or managing agent to manage the tenant vetting process and provide the inspection service on the landlords' behalf.  Although there will be a cost involved, should there be damage or a fire and a landlord has been found to neglect their responsibilities, a claim might not be paid."

Lessons have been learned from instances where successful arrests have been made of tenants. In 2005, police identified more than 700 cannabis factories in London alone*.

Below are some common trends to help identify the typical methods for growing cannabis. These are:

  • Cannabis plants are typically grown in individual pots throughout the property, with walls, ceilings and doors lined with plastic or polythene. 
  • Windows will normally have blinds or curtains closed to obscure any activity. 
  • The plants are irrigated through pump spray guns, such as those used in a domestic garden, rather than having garden hoses plugged into a sink or basin
  • High powered lighting is installed in each room and the electricity has probably been tampered with to bypass the meter.
  • A considerable amount of condensation is produced
  • A pungent smell, which may be noticed through the walls of adjoining properties but ducting and extractor fans are installed and fed through the chimney or flue to prevent this.

-ends-

For further information, please contact:
Elinor Graveson at Staniforth on 0161 919 8025
or Sally Leeman at Norwich Union on 01603 684225/ 07789 270677.  

Notes to editors

* The Independent, 25 September 2006 ‘Police target cannabis factories'

  • Norwich Union is the UK's largest general insurer with a market share of around 15%, with a focus on insurance for individuals and small businesses.
  • It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest Financial Adviser (FA) providers.  FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.
  • Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at www.aviva.com/media.

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