Oh No! I Have A Marijuana Grow-Op In My Rental Property!

I don’t really, but what better way to get your attention?

As landlords, most of us have heard of that old urban myth. You know the one… a guy who knows a guy, who’s a landlord, who suddenly finds out that the perfectly nice couple who had been renting out the house were in fact running a marijuana grow-op. There are variations on the story as well, sometimes it’s a crack house, sometimes it’s a meth lab. This story — in all it’s incantations — has popped into our brains in some way, shape, or form at some point in time.

This is the reality…

The RCMP estimate that there are about 50,000 grow-ops in Canada. They’re in single family homes, basement apartments, and even in Toronto high rise condos. Most landlords are probably oblivious to this fact — and even more alarmingly — they’re often oblivious to the massive insurance pickle they’ll find themselves in if they end up renting to someone who decides to make their unit a reefer lab.

Read this great article by Ottawa lawyer Howard Yegendorf. Landlords need to be aware that the majority of liability insurance policies have a specific exclusion for damage caused by your tenant’s marijuana grow-op. That’s just the insurance problem. There’s also the criminal enterprise element. Seriously. Have you seen Oliver Stone’s Savages? Property management is hard enough. Having something comparable to a Breaking Bad season in real life is the absolute last thing you or any other tenants in the property need.

So what do you do? Well, here are some tips:

  • Perform tenant screenings. There’s a variety of other background checks your can perform as well, such as a criminal record check and an employment verification.
  • Have an airtight lease that clearly articulates the expectation of no criminal activity on the premises and that the tenant will provide reasonable access to the landlord.
  • Visit and inspect your property regularly. Remember – landlords are allowed to visit their units for routine inspections with proper notice given. You’d be surprised how many don’t do this. Get into this habit.
  • Talk to your tenants. Communicate with them. That’s always a good way to get a sense of what’s going on at the property. If you’re hearing about a lot of suspicious people coming and going constantly that could be a tip worth keeping in the front of your mind. Grow-ops have a tendency to have a lot of runners coming in and out of the place.

Here’s some tips on what to look out for:

  • Look out for any hydro alteration or electrical bypass. Things like holes in the foundation that weren’t there before should be treated as suspicious.
  • Did the renter spend a lot of time viewing the breaker-boxes, wiring and plumbing fixtures? Were they asking a lot of questions about power distribution in the property? Believe it or not, this happens. More often than not, illegal growers attempt to steal hydro by altering how it comes into the unit.
  • Be weary if tenants want to pay their rent in cash. Seriously. Who pays in cash? People who deal with a lot of cash, like servers, even have bank accounts.
  • If a tenant discloses that they plan to have the utilities registered under a different name, that’s weird.
  • Evasive answers and vague information on a rental application. This should set off a flag anyways.
  • Condensation or darkened windows in the unit. Cardboard and blacked out windows foster an effective grow environment. That’s not normal.
  • Tenant unloads copper and/or PVC pipe, soil, halogen lamps, large amounts of black plastic aluminum ducting, and fans.

Have you ever had a marijuana grow-op in one of your rental properties? Know anyone who has? Share your thoughts with us.

The Anatomy Of A Killer Rental Listing

You have a vacancy and you’re keen on getting a great tenant in the unit. You want your available unit to stand out from the crowd in a big way. I mean – everyone does – but, you don’t know where to start to create that element of distinction, and the Instagram photos you’ve taken with your iPhone aren’tk as flattering as you thought they’d look. I’m here to tell you how to really create a great listing and what the anatomy of a killer listing looks like. I’m also going to point out listings that suck and that don’t do landlords any favours.

This is an example of a useless apartment listing screaming NOT to be paid attention to. The two sentences make me want to grab my check book, and the typo for “interested” has convinced me the landlord isn’t very smart either.

First of all – there’s a bit of a misconception out there that you need to have an SEO optimized website, dedicated to a single unit, to “properly” market it. Having a full blown website to market a unit is helpful – sure – but it’s not essential. I mean, it’s a bit of overkill. I’m only saying this because I recently met a perfectly nice person who I got into an awkward debate with about this, as they were trying to push a company in California who specializes in creating websites that include a domain that incorporates your address. “100mainstreetforrent.com” enhances the attractiveness of the available unit, and will create more interest, more quickly”, said the web expert.

Sorry buddy – as Joe Biden says, that’s a bunch of malarkey. You don’t need to buy a domain to rent a place. Real estate agents do stuff like that. The return on something like that is significant if they sell a house. Landlords are looking for the most cost effective ways to market properties for rent – not for sale. I’m here to tell you that you can write up a good rental listing and include some good photos without breaking the bank at all. Whether you’re using our great marketing listings feature – which creates a great one off micro page for your place that you can embed into a Kijiji or Craig’s List ad, or whether you’re just doing a write up on a directory yourself, you might find this useful.

After having worked at an ad agency for a year, one of the best lessons I learned was that words can often times be more persuasive than images, but if you hit the mark with both words and a great visual, you have the potential to do anything.

1. First things first – let’s talk about your headline. That’s your statement – your declaration! It stands on it’s own to attract a renter to read the rest of your listing. I’m a fan of using attractive words – like “spacious”, “clean”, “bright” and “beautiful”. I also suggest always indicating what kind of unit it is – i.e. a 1 bedroom, or a loft, a basement apartment, or a townhouse. Indicating the unit’s rent is also an essential in your headline. You don’t want to cram too much into a headline, or else it will read like War & Peace – and you’re going to lose the attention you’re demanding. Here’s an example:

“Spacious, clean, and bright 1 bedroom apartment for rent on Main Street – $950 per month”

That’s how you do it.

2. Quality Photos are essential. Having photos with a listing is going to quintuple your chances of interest. I’m serious. Not having them is crazy. I’m not saying go out and hire the best photographer you can find – but I’m also not saying that’s a bad idea either. Cost is important to note – but getting some good photos done is a good investment in my opinion. You can use them for years. You can also take good photos of your units by learning a few tips, even if you’re doing it on your iPhone.

This photo is an example of “terrible”. What did a nuclear weapon go off outside? I need sunglasses.
  • Remove Clutter and ensure you’re working with a clean area. Either ask the existing tenant to tidy it up and make it presentable, or get a cleaning done. If there’s stuff on the fridge, take it off. Temporarily remove anything that can act as a distraction from giving a good sense of the room. The purpose of the photographs are to give an impression of the environment, not the decor or the furniture.
  • Turn your flash off. If you’re using your flash, you don’t have enough light in the shot. Flashes suck. They make the place look crappy and washed out. Ensure there is adequate lighting in a space. Even better – take your photos during a sunny day. The more light in a space, the better the sense of the environment.
  • Use a wide angle. They always look better and produce a better sense of rooms.
  • Don’t take shots that look down on a room. Crouch down, or lower the tripod a bit to give a sense of height and space.
  • Use a tripod, or ensure that your camera is steady. This is a given and I refuse to give an explanation as to why this is important. Shakey and crooked shots aren’t going to do any justice to your perfectly nice spot.
  • Take photos of every room and accessible spot. You don’t need to take 1000 images of your rental, but the more articulated the unit is visually, the better the quality of your listing. Get a good shot of the bedroom, the kitchen, the appliances, the number of windows, and a good shot of the exterior of the building.
  • Organize your photos in a bit of a flow – as if you were giving someone a tour of the unit physically.
  • Your first photo in a listing should be a busy place in the unit – like a kitchen or a living room. If you post your first photo of a bathroom, it’s not exactly the greatest first impression. Bathrooms aren’t busy – unless you’re addicted to laxatives.

3. Details are important. Beisdes the obvious stuff, like the breakdown on utilities or what’s included, indicate the location in your listing. People get peeved when they don’t have an address. Give them details about close by amenities. Restaurants. Banks. Grocery stores. Let them know about bus routes. Give them a sense of how walkable the location is. Include or indicate the walk score of the place. Indicate close parks or green space. Provide a sense of the community and it’s benefits. Indicate whether laundry is available. Articulate as much as possible, so that when someone reads your ad, the possibility of a prospective tenant getting that sense of “home” is high.

What other things do you do to market your vacancies? How do you create a snazzy rental listing? Share with us!