By CAROL BYRNE
GARDAÍ are appealing to landlords to frequently check their properties arising from the discovery of six cannabis growhouses, all located in rental properties in County Clare in the past three weeks.
The warning comes after gardaí uncovered a sixth grow house in County Clare last Thursday, where cannabis plants with an estimated street value of up to €144,000 were found in Mullagh.
This latest haul brings the total drugs seized in the county to €1.43 million. The seizure was made as part of an ongoing operation targeting the cultivation, possession and sale of cannabis in the county.
“Because of recent discoveries of cannabis growhouses in the county we are asking all those who have rented properties to check them and ensure all is in order and if they have any suspicions to contact the Gardaí immediately,” Superintendent Derek Smart of Ennis Garda Station said.
He said “in the vast majority” of grow house cases the operations are run out of rented houses. This is “because the overheads are so small, they don’t have to buy the house, they merely are renting it for a long period and they can be gone in a matter of days. If they were not being disturbed by the landlord they might stay there longer than they would have thought, and a lot of times they are in long term lease contracts of up to three years”.
While there isn’t a legal obligation on landlords to check their properties, it is advisable practice, according to the senior garda.
“In our experience in any of these houses that we have uncovered there has been extensive damage to the house as a result of the activity taking place, so it is in landlord’s best interest to make sure their properties are in a safe condition. In a lot of these cases the electricity units are being bypassed, and that causes extreme risk to properties themselves, because you have people who are not qualified doing it. You also have all these lights bringing huge moisture into the house, which can have its own effect on the house,” he said.
Margaret McCormack, information officer with the Irish Property Owners Association, a national organisation representing landlords, explained that if landlords have a suspicion this is going on they can organise an inspection.
On the flip side she said, “The tenant is entitled to a quiet enjoyment of the property during the tenancy, and they have to get the tenants consent” to carry out an inspection at a mutually agreeable time.
“Cannabis farms are not something that happens routinely; where it does happen it’s a disaster. It causes an awful lot of damage because they bypass electricity metres, there is water damage, and there can be a smell from outside of the property. After they are gone a deposit wouldn’t cover the damage because it is hugely excessive. They’ll have blocked up windows, there will be high condensation within the property, they would be filling grow bags with water and wouldn’t be concerned of that spilling on floors. We would say to landlords be concerned if there are blacked out windows in a rental property and any strange smells. We would also encourage them to do a thorough inspection, when they do inspect the properties,” she said.
She also advised landlords taking on new tenants to look for references, and to establish a habit of checking the property regularly.
“A tenancy can be terminated within seven days for severe antisocial behaviour, and a crime on the property is classed as severe antisocial behaviour. In saying that, if the gardaí are called to a situation like this the property tends to be abandoned,” she said.
Other signs landlords should be cognisant of include a dramatic change in electricity usage.
Superintendent Smart added that while basements and attics are more suitable locations, this is providing there is good access, but said in his experience where this occurs the whole house is often used for the industry.
“Most times the windows would be blackened out and the house would be very dark and the heat lamps then cause the plants to grow quicker. It has to be done in a place that has access as some of these plants can grow up to well over a metre, and if you have them in an attic you’re not necessarily going to have that room. They can literally just take over the house, every room in the house would be utilised and plants would be put in at different stages of growth,” he said.
He said there are no legal implications on landlords for not checking their properties but the gardaí advise them to check frequently and to contact them if they find anything of concern after a rental agreement has ended.
“There were a number of times when landlords have reported it to us, where they found things that would suggest it was being used as a grow house,” he said.
Anyone who can help gardaí with their ongoing investigation into the sale and supply of drugs in County Clare is asked to contact their nearest garda station or to call the garda confidential line 1800-666-111.