Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | September 2, 2011

Lax Regulations on Grow Ops

Gord McCrea and Susan Kammerle bought a home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Maple Ridge last year on the understanding that a marijuana growing operation that once occupied the basement had been small and that there hadn’t been any major tampering with the home’s infrastructure.

Provincial Court and municipal documents, however, reveal that the basement growing operation busted by police in May 2008 consisted of almost 900 plants and that city inspectors ordered the replacement, cleaning, fixing or testing of the home’s air ducts, gas lines, water lines, plumbing fixtures and circuits.

After reading the documents for the first time, the couple, who have two teenage children, went silent. This information would have been nice to have from the beginning, they said.

“It’s your home. It’s a big investment,” Kammerle said.

Their case illustrates the challenge that homebuyers across Canada sometimes face to get detailed information about a home’s history and – in cases where they do learn about a past clandestine growing operation or drug lab – to decide whether it’s safe to move in.

Some politicians, real estate associations and building experts are calling for better disclosure practices and uniform standards for cleaning up homes that may contain toxic mould and chemicals to give homebuyers greater peace of mind.

Right now, there is no consistent way for prospective homebuyers to learn about a past growing operation or drug lab. They might get information from a seller or realtor. Some public agencies, such as Alberta Health Services, and some police departments, including those in Winnipeg and Ottawa, maintain web pages that show the addresses of illegal drug operations.

And interested buyers might also request records from municipal building departments or get information by talking to neighbours.

Some industry observers say a better way to serve prospective homebuyers would be to require municipal or provincial authorities to insert notices about growing operations and drug labs into land title documents.

But an inevitable question follows: How long do you keep this information in a property’s file? Forever?

Some in the real estate industry suggest there wouldn’t be a need for the records once the home has been rehabilitated.

Is it fair to have a permanent stigma attached to a home, especially if a lot of money was spent to clean up the house? asked Robert Laing, chief executive officer of the B.C. Real Estate Association. According to some estimates, remediation jobs can range from $20,000 to $50,000.

University of Calgary professor Tang Lee, who has studied the issue, suggests keeping the original notice in the property’s file but adding a followup notice to show that the home has undergone remediation.

If the remediation has been done properly, the value of the home shouldn’t drop and might even improve, he added.

But even if disclosure methods are improved, that only takes care of part of the problem, observers say.

While many Canadian municipalities have bylaws that prevent homes with drug operations from being re-occupied until remediation has been done, there are no provincial or national standards guiding the process.

Jesse Schmidt, owner of Medallion Healthy Homes of Canada, which oversaw the remediation work at the Maple Ridge home in 2008, says national standards should be in place.

“I know there are a number of fly-by-night companies that have come and gone here in B.C. It’s a very lucrative industry to be in. I think standards and credentials got lost in the whole mix of things,” he said.

The key for homeowners, he said, is to hire companies that have been certified by professional industrial hygiene boards in Canada or the U.S.

“Just because a home was used as a grow-op doesn’t necessarily mean that the stigma should carry over forever,” Schmidt said.

Sitting on the porch of his Maple Ridge home, McCrea said he’s confident in the remediation work that was performed on his home before he moved in. In fact, before he bought the home, he hired his own inspector, who found no problems.

“Who else are you supposed to trust?” he said.

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