Former Ottawa grow-ops a homeowner's hidden danger

The health and safety of some Ottawa residents could be in danger because they live in old marijuana grow-ops that are never busted.

Most marijuana grow-ops are never busted, home inspector says

Hidden former grow-ops

9 years ago
Many homeowners don't know if their home was once a grow-op. 3:57

Your health and safety could be at risk because you live in a former marijuana grow-op and don’t even know, according to a veteran Ottawa home inspector, who says most grow-ops are never busted.

Paul Wilson, who has inspected homes in Ottawa for the past 33 years, said he finds at least one former grow-op every six weeks.

Wilson often sees new homeowners who have no idea they are about to move in to a former grow-op and families who live in homes for many years before they discover the building was once a grow-op.

That's because past owners often do minor renovations on homes to cover surface damage and proper inspections are not performed, he added.

Since 2006, the City of Ottawa has been following up on grow-ops busted by Ottawa Police to ensure they're remediated and a professional engineer signs off that they can be occupied again.

"There have to be health checks done, electrical safety authority checks done to make sure the home is safe," said Wilson. "Plumbing, mechanical, air quality, all these things. But only for the ones that get busted and recorded. So the majority of them, there's a lot of them, that never get busted."

"If they [homeowners] don't know the difference when they're buying the home, they buy it and think it's a beautiful home," he said.

Private member's bill introduced

That lack of transparency prompted a private member's bill introduced Thursday, one that calls for a provincial registry of former grow-ops.

Nepean-Carleton Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod introduced the bill in the legislature to ensure the protection of Ontario homebuyers. MacLeod tabled a similar bill two years ago.

Home inspector Paul Wilson, who says he's been on every street in Ottawa, has assessed about 23,000 homes in his career. (CBC)

The proposed legislation would allow realtors and future home owners to discover the past history of the properties and would require building inspectors to take corrective steps necessary to make the building safe again.

Grow-ops across Ottawa

No area of the city is immune to grow-ops, Wilson added, but the majority are found in the suburbs.

Ottawa police bust 23 grow-ops each year on average, according to Staff Sgt. Mike Laviolette, who heads the force’s drug unit.

In 2005, 50,000 grow-ops were busted across Canada and 20,000 of them were in Ontario, according to a CBC News investigation.

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Laviolette admitted the number of grow-ops running in Ottawa could be much higher than his "very conservative" estimate of 50.

"I can tell you if there are 1,000 [grow-ops] out there, I don't want to know about 1,000 because I don't have the resources to dedicate to it," said Laviolette, referring to a limited police budget that continue to face pressures from city council.

Electricity, structure of homes damaged

Marijuana grow-ops cause lasting damage inside homes due to the moisture from marijuana plants, which create mould and spores in walls, ceilings and floors, according to Wilson. The air inside the homes also endangers residents' health.

Those who run grow-ops also re-wire homes to bypass an expensive hydro bill that can cost about $1,500 per month.

Patchy electrical work also makes a fire 40 times more likely in the home, according to a City of Ottawa staff report released in November.

Grow-ops are often part of organized crime, as well, Laviolette added, which can threaten an entire neighbourhood.

The safety issue is compounded when former grow-ops are not reported, according to real estate agent A.J. Plant.

The 'green' team

  • A police squad focused solely on busting marijuana grow-ops.
  • Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton are among the Canadian municipalities that have one.
  • Ottawa police don't have a dedicated green team.

Real-estate agents are required to report a home when it is busted as a grow-op.

"I'm not against people selling houses themselves. What bothers me is if I go and sell a home that was sold two or three times and there was no record of [the grow-op]," he said.

If you discover your home was once used for a marijuana grow-op and renovations are needed, consult your insurance policy. But the Insurance Bureau of Canada said most policies do not cover renovations caused by former grow-ops.



Ottawa police make their first marijuana grow-op bust
2005 Ontario's Municipal Act changed to require city to take whatever actions authorized by law to make former grow-op buildings reported by police safe
2006 Building Code Services begins dealing with former grow-ops reported by police
2008 Ottawa police start posting a list of former grow-ops online, going back three months
2011 RCMP start doing the same 

The Ottawa police list of grow-ops grows to more than a three-month history

City of Ottawa passes a bylaw outlining a process of remediation for former grow-ops reported by police

Ontario Real Estate Board renews its calls for an Ontario-wide registry of gro-ops busted by police

Source: Ottawa police, City of  Ottawa, RCMP, Ontario Real Estate Board