You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and you can’t just a house just by the look of the front door, either. Grow houses usually display few if any indications – other than possibly odor – of what is going on inside.
You’ve heard the horror stories about meth houses, but a “softer” drug could actually pack a much harder punch when it comes to unsuspecting buyers, say inspectors. Homeowners who buy foreclosure houses “as is” in order to get a great deal need to do more than examine the premises for signs that the property might have been a meth lab. These days, they need to also check things out in case they are buying a former “grow house” used to cultivate marijuana. No one knows exactly how many grow houses are currently out there, but in 2009 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) busted 4,666 of them. The DEA says that this number is likely “just a tiny fraction” of the total number of houses in operation.
Not only are grow houses a problem for the neighborhoods in which they are located; they also present serious health and safety hazards for their future owners. Marijuana plants need extensive irrigation and the homes are usually kept extremely hot and humid, the perfect conditions for mold. When the growers move on, they (or the foreclosing party) may paint over damaged surfaces, temporarily hiding mold-related damage and the mold itself. Although inspectors evaluate homes they test moisture readings and advise deferring sales for readings of 20 percent or higher. However, mold does not need nearly this much humidity to thrive. Also, growers may cut holes in the ceiling, rewire the electrical system, and even change the ductwork – generally without professional advice or assistance – in order to better accommodate their crops and equipment. Since many of these changes are not visible on the surface, new homeowners could be moving into seriously compromised properties hiding fire hazards and poorly-repaired problems.
Recently in Atlanta, Georgia, police busted a grow house with more than half a million dollars worth of marijuana thriving inside the home. The house smelled of marijuana from the street and contained an entire irrigation system designed to keep the plants happy and healthy. In this case, the address of the home and the fact that it was a grow house are now public knowledge, but often a property’s status as a grow house is not disclosed or lenders protest that they are not in the property management business and cannot be expected to know everything about every foreclosed property. When this happens, happy homebuyers who believe they are getting a great deal at a foreclosure auction may find themselves footing the bill for mold remediation, new wiring, and myriad other marijuana-related repairs. To avoid this issue, homebuyers should always insist on having their own inspection of the property and not buy both as-is and uninspected in order to get a better deal. Deal-seekers can also check to make sure that proper permits were filed for any repairs; if not, then you may have future safety issues and liabilities regardless of whether or not your bargain was actually once a pot farm.
by Carole VanSickle