Manitoba eyes protection from grow ops for homebuyers

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Manitoba eyes protection from grow ops for homebuyers

CBC News
Rick Vandekerkhove performs inspections on properties criminals have damaged due to marijuana grow ops. (CBC)

The Manitoba government has a plan to protect people from unknowingly buying homes that were formerly used as marijuana grow ops.

It wants to attach that information to a property’s land title and make it fully accessible to prospective buyers.

There’s no timeline on putting the plan in place but it has the full backing of the Winnipeg Police Service.

“There’s all different varieties and different stories about how people find out [their home was a grow op] after the fact. It’s not uncommon and it is a panic situation for them,” said Sgt. Kerry Baldwin, who heads up the police service’s green team responsible for dismantling and investigating grow ops in the city.



‘There’s a lot out there that we probably don’t know about.’—Sgt. Kerry Baldwin


When Winnipeg police bust a grow op, they always list the location online. But prospective buyers aren’t often aware of the list and CBC News has learned real estate agents don’t often check either.

Making the information part of land titles documents is a great move, but it won’t protect everyone, said Baldwin.

Many grow ops are never discovered and the houses are renovated to cover up the illegal activity that once took place.

“We don’t kid ourselves. There’s a lot out there that we probably don’t know about,” said Baldwin.


Dangerous homes

Rick Vandekerkhove, an operations manager with the Office of the Fire Commissioner, said homes once used for grow ops can be dangerous.

Shoddy work to install a labyrinth of exhaust vents can result in structural damage, and electrical wiring tampered with to hide high energy usage can be a fire hazard.

As well, toxic mould can develop from the elevated moisture levels maintained in grow-ops.

“We have found a number of locations where they [grow op operators] breach basement walls to steal electricity,” Vandekerkhove said. “And they’re tampering with the drinkable water source and there’s possible contamination with your tap water.”

Fixing the damage can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he added.

For more than a year, Vandekerkhove has been stepping in when police call after discovering a grow op. He does inspections on properties that criminals have damaged due to marijuana grow ops.
“We re-key the house and hold custody of the house until the owner can be contacted and advised of the repairs that are happening,” he said.

Before Vandekerkhove’s office became involved, former grow op homes would resurface on the market without the necessary repairs.

In hot property markets, bidding wars mean prospective buyers don’t have the luxury to call in home inspectors or put other conditions on the sale of a home.

“The due diligence you’d expect from someone purchasing [a home] is not there because the market doesn’t really afford them that opportunity,” said Baldwin.


Disclosure depends: realtors association

The Manitoba Securities Commission (MSC), an arm’s-length agency of the provincial government that enforces the provincial Real Estate Broker’s Act, requires agents to disclose whether a home was a grow op.

However, those rules are murky, said Peter Squire, spokesman for the Winnipeg Realtors Association – an organization representing the business interests of real estate agents.

In cases where a grow-op was “very modest” (about five to 10 plants), where no damage occurred and environmental testing has been done, an agent may list the property for sale and not disclose its history to the buyer, Squire said.

That doesn’t conflict with the MSC’s rule that real estate agents must always disclose if a home is a former grow-op, he said.