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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024

Pot houses never shake the ‘stigma’ of their grow-op pasts

By Jason van Rassel

CALGARY — Realtors are pushing for air quality standards to fill a regulatory vacuum involving former marijuana grow-ops put up for sale.

A May 2011 handout photo of a marijuana grow-op in Maple Ridge, B.C. Former grow-ops are “stigmatized” properties that are difficult to sell even when they’re remediated

How to protect the health — and the investment — of homebuyers is just one of the issues delegates from the real-estate industry, civic authorities and law enforcement, will discuss at a three-day conference opening in Banff, Alta. on Tuesday.

“There’s no way on Earth we’ll be able to manage the scope of this problem without the involvement and co-operation of the private sector,” said Staff Sgt. Tom Hanson of Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), a provincial umbrella organization of 400 investigators that targets serious and organized crime.

In 2010, ALERT seized 100,615 marijuana plants and 655 kilograms of harvested bud — much of it grown in operations concealed in homes.


But grow-ops are far from strictly a policing issue: because they require large amounts of electricity, criminals commonly steal power by bypassing the electrical meter. In addition to being illegal, the makeshift wiring jobs often pose a fire hazard.

Homes used for grow operations are often rendered uninhabitable by toxic mould caused by the high humidity used to grow the plants.

Holes bashed into walls and foundations to route wires, water and ventilation equipment can compromise a home’s structural integrity.

All those issues led authorities to create the co-ordinated safety response team, which addresses the health and safety problems that still exist after police seize the marijuana and dismantle the grow-op.

“Sooner or later, these (properties) come to market,” said Bill Kirk, a realtor and director on the Calgary Real Estate Board.

Officials have taken some steps to inform the public of properties that may have been grow-ops in the past, such as an Alberta Health Services (AHS) site that lists properties that have been deemed unfit for habitation.

But the registry has limitations — it only lists properties that were raided by police.

A thorny issue the real-estate industry is dealing with, Kirk said, is identifying the unknown number of grow-ops that don’t make the list.

He said there needs to be more clearly defined rules surrounding a homeowner’s and realtor’s duty to disclose if a property had once been a grow operation — even if it has been remediated.

There are still cases when a seller doesn’t know the home used to be a grow-op, but a realtor may see signs that one was set up, dismantled and covered up before anyone detected it.

A listing realtor may want to disclose that information to potential buyers but runs the risk of breaching confidentiality requirements if the seller doesn’t want them to reveal that information, Kirk said.

“Here we are, stuck in the middle,” he said.

Former grow-ops are “stigmatized” properties that are difficult to sell even when they’re remediated, said Kirk.

One way to minimize the risks and uncertainties to all the parties involved — buyers, sellers and realtors — is to establish provincial air quality standards that must be met for a home to be considered remediated.

Air quality is the last undiscovered territory,” Kirk said.

In 2011, the AHS website listed 134 properties that had been raided by police and condemned after investigators found a grow-op inside.

While the organizations at the Banff conference bring different perspectives to the table, there’s agreement that number represents only a fraction of the true total.

“We need to accomplish (provincial standards) really quickly. The grow-op problem is expanding,” Kirk said.

Postmedia News

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