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Some homeowners in Mission, B.C., are planning a class action lawsuit to battle municipal inspections intended to find marijuana grow-ops, but that often result in nothing but a big inspection bill.

Provincial legislation empowers municipal inspectors to enter homes with unusually high hydro use and look for evidence of a marijuana grow-op. But the process is hit and miss.

When inspectors searched Stacy Gowanlock's home, all they found was faulty wiring for a hot tub, not a grow-op.

'They're trying to cheat the system and go through the back door of municipal law to do criminal law searches.'—B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director David Eby

"Its embarrassing," said Gowanlock. "They're in there in the middle of the day. They're there in their inspection van. They have the RCMP waiting outside."

"But they still administered the fee, the $5,200 fee," he said.  

In another case, a 67-year-old man who was found to be growing cucumbers — not marijuana — in his basement was still slapped with the inspection fee.

The homeowners' lawsuit will claim the municipality is wantonly and unfairly targeting them, Gowanlock said.

Councillor concerned

"I believe it's a cash grab," he said. "I think it's a way to generate revenue. I think that $5,200 for 15 minutes of work is an awful lot of money."  

District Coun. Jenny Stevens said she is concerned after learning that in half of the homes inspected, there was no evidence of marijuana growing.

"Those people have still suffered the embarrassment and the difficulty with their neighbours," said Stevens.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association hopes to use the legal case to fight similar bylaws elsewhere in the province.

"The problem is, they're trying to cheat the system and go through the back door of municipal law to do criminal law searches," said executive director David Eby. "That's a real problem."

A similar bylaw in Surrey has been successfully challenged in court. Inspectors in that city now either ask consent before entering a home or conduct a search armed with a warrant.

With files from the CBC's Meera Bains and Susana da Silva