It may be the very last thing you might have imagined when you first let your property to that seemingly charming and well-spoken couple. But rented property is just the place, it seems, for some individuals to conduct the highly illegal cultivation of cannabis.
If your let property happens to be turned to such use, the responsibility for unpaid utility bills and repairs remain your responsibility and, if the activity is taking place with your knowledge you may also be held criminally liable.
According to the National Landlords Association more than 7,800 cannabis farms were discovered in the UK during the course of 2011 and 2012 and the trend seems to be heading upwards. Many of the farms were detected within the private rented sector.
Implications for the landlord
If you know that cannabis is being grown at a property you let and do nothing to report it to the police, you may be held criminally responsible.
This does not mean confronting the tenants yourself - drug cultivation may attract more than its fair share of violent individuals - but simply reporting your suspicions to the police at the earliest opportunity.
You remain responsible for anything that is going on in your let property. Even if you are unaware that it is being used as a cannabis farm, you may be facing the lion's share of considerable costs and expense.
As pointed out in a story that appeared in the Luton & Dunstable Express recently, the cultivation of cannabis requires the heat and humidity provided by quite sophisticated hydroponic feeds, meaning round the clock water, lighting and heating, pipes, cables and ducts. In a word, the farm is likely to involve considerable damage to the let property.
In those circumstances, it is important to remember that you may end up paying for all such damage yourself, since many landlords insurance policies may be voided if a criminal activity is being conducted on the premises.
Those policies that do offer malicious damage cover may have upper claims limits - £5,000 is not uncommon - which may not cover the full cost of any repairs.
So, how might the landlord avoid falling into the messy and expensive trap of a cannabis farm?
Some of the precautions you might take include:
- talk to your insurer about the kind of safeguards and precautions you might put in place when choosing your tenants - here at UKinsuranceNET, we are always pleased to handle enquiries about any aspect of your landlord insurance;
- do not be taken in by the simple appearance of tenants looking to rent your property but carry out thorough checks on their background however good an initial impression they may have given;
- tempting as it may be to accept a large number of months rent in advance, it might be better to avoid doing so as it may be an indication of tenants wanting to be left undisturbed whilst they conduct their illegal activities;
- get to know your tenants when they are living in your property - visiting at least every quarter at a mutually agreed time; and
- get to know the neighbours, asking them to let you know if something arouses their suspicions about the possible activities and comings and goings of your tenants.
None of this is going to be an absolute defence against criminally-minded tenants, of course, but your having taken every reasonable precaution about the kind of tenant to whom you let your property may go down well with your insurer if anything goes wrong.