Grow-ops contributing to the rental crunch

Marijuana grow operations are a major concern for law-enforcement agencies, but perhaps they should also be troubling to renters. That’s because the indoor farming of cannabis—a multibillion-dollar crop in British Columbia—may be contributing the rental crunch. According to police, growers often use rental homes and commercial buildings to avoid damage to their own property.

The City of Vancouver shuts down an average of 300 grow-ops a year, said Carlene Robbins, manager of City Hall’s property-use branch.

“A lot of the grow-ops, the majority of the grow-ops that we bust, are in residential buildings, most of them single-family [houses] and many of them are rental,” Robbins told the Georgia Straight. “Basically, they’re not being used for living. They’re being used to grow marijuana, so there is an impact.”

The city’s has had a Grow Busters Program since 2000. In her report to council in April 2005, Robbins noted that 2,135 indoor farms had been closed over the previous four and a half years. She also stated that although the number of reported grow-ops in the city declined in 2004, there was a noted increase in cannabis cultivation in the Metro Vancouver region.

A paper prepared by Surrey fire chief Len Garis cited estimates of the total number of grow-ops in the province that range from 7,000 to as many as 20,000.

Garis’s Eliminating Residential Marijuana Grow Operations—An Alternate Approach noted that a 2004 report by the Fraser Institute reckoned that the province has 7,000 to 17,500 indoor cannabis farms, yielding about $2 billion worth of pot per year.

“However, those estimates are considerably lower than those used by RCMP “E” Division. RCMP analysis gauges the annual marijuana trade in B.C. at $7 billion—placing it in the vicinity of agriculture, tourism, and forestry in terms of impact on the B.C. economy,” Garis wrote. “That number is based on the assumption that B.C. has 20,000 grow operations (each with 250 plants) that produce a combined total of 3.7 million pounds (1,678 metric tonnes) of product per year.”

Garis also cited a study done in 2005 stating that the number of cases brought to the attention of various police agencies in the province tripled from 1,489 in 1997 to 4,514 cases in 2003.

In Surrey, the fire chief pointed out that the RCMP busted 257 grow-ops in 2004—13 percent of the city’s estimated 2,000 marijuana grow houses.

In Richmond, the RCMP detachment takes down about one or two grow-ops a week, according to spokesperson Corporal Nycki Basra.

“That’s an interesting way to look at it,” Basra told the Straight, when asked whether grow-ops are depriving law-abiding citizens of a chance to lease residential properties. “It’s probably true. It’s not something we would be able to comment on. We can only comment how many we take down. But yeah, you could do the math. Of course you’ve got thousands and hundreds of houses that are used for grow-ops that are potential homes for people to live in.”

Landlords can take simple steps to prevent their properties from becoming marijuana farms. A Richmond RCMP Web page (www suggests screening prospective tenants and conducting regular inspections, for example.

A walk-through at the property could provide hints of a grow-op. Growers use high-intensity light bulbs, and they hide bright lights by blacking out or boarding up windows. A “skunk” smell in the air could also be a giveaway. The Richmond RCMP recommends landlords check their property every four to five weeks. They advise that owners should avoid confronting the tenant if there is reason to believe that there’s a grow-op on the property. Instead, call the police.

Managers of multi-unit dwellings like condos can look for fast-spinning hydro meters. “Checks should be conducted at staggered times, preferably over 12 hours apart, since marihuana grow operation equipment is often found to be on 12–18 hour timers,” according to the Richmond RCMP Web site. The RCMP detachment also suggests the adoption of certain strata bylaws. These include mandatory annual in-suite fire-alarm-device testing. This would allow a strata council to order a locksmith to open the door of a unit if the resident does not provide access.