You’ve probably seen scenes like it on a late-night police reality show.
Officers storm into a property and uncover marijuana plants, hydroponic lighting set-ups and a cache of guns and cash.
But what if you had to do a double-take when you realised that front door they just broke down belonged to your very own investment property?
As an investor, you worry about things all the time.
Will the tenants pay their rent? Will they trash my place? What if they move out and I can’t find someone new for ages?
I doubt you’ve ever considered that your property could be the scene of an illegal cannabis operation!
Hiding in plain sight
According to the ABC, these kinds of houses are hiding in plain sight right across the country, cultivating millions of dollars’ worth of the green stuff right under the noses of unsuspecting landlords.
In fact, you probably drive past one every day – there could even be one in your street – and you would never know.
Even the police have given up trying to guesstimate how much marijuana is being grown in ordinary properties around Australia.
NSW drug and firearm squad commander Peter McErlain told ABC investigators that it’s impossible to put a ceiling on just how many of these houses exist, and the scale of their recent findings have been alarming.
Around 2.1 million Aussies have used cannabis over the past year, and all of that pot has to come from somewhere.
According to police sources, it’s a far cry from small operations housing a handful of plants. Instead, they’re discovering large and powerful organised crime syndicates who are cashing in on Australia’s love for a puff of Mary Jane.
Organised criminals making millions of dollars
Superintendent McErlain says these gangs use a scattergun approach, spreading their crops across several houses to maximise profit and avoid detection.
In NSW, Strike Force Zambesi has been tasked with the job of hunting down these drug houses, and since 2011 they have raided in excess of 570 properties, seizing more than $200 million worth of cannabis.
And that’s just in a small pocket of Sydney – you can only imagine what’s going on around the rest of the nation.
Victoria Police have also been trying to put a stop to illegal cannabis growers in their state, raiding 160 properties and preventing more than 14 tonnes of marijuana from entering the supply chain.
Up in Queensland, police discovered $60 million worth of the drug when they busted a Vietnamese crime syndicate operating in the state, while Western Australian police have also reported an increase in this type of activity.
Turning your average rental property into a cannabis farm isn’t as difficult as you might imagine – the entire process can be completed within a day or so of obtaining the keys.
Each room is set up with lighting, watering and nutrient-delivery systems, to ensure maximum growth.
Some of the equipment required includes coconut mulch, light globes and electrical transformers, which is not hugely different from your average Saturday arvo shop at Bunnings.
And the profits are immense: in the first three months, it’s estimated that a cannabis house could rake in $250,000.
What you can do
For landlords, the bad news doesn’t stop at the fact that you’re inadvertently involved in a major drug scandal.
On discovering your property is being used to grow marijuana, you’re likely to find dodgy electrical wiring, holes in the walls and floor, water damage and even booby traps, all of which could cost you a fortune to rectify.
So as a rental property owner, how do you avoid leasing your beloved property to these unscrupulous criminals – particularly if even the police are having a hard time keeping up with them?
Aside from heavily vetting your potential tenants, which doesn’t always weed out the bad guys, you should engage the services of a trustworthy property manager who will inspect the dwelling at regular intervals.
The first inspection should be three months after the new tenants move in, then six monthly thereafter if your state legislation allows.
Be sure that your lease is comprehensive, including clauses prohibiting illegal activity, and you have adequate landlords insurance – and always read the fine print.