Home inspectors not finding grow-op clues: Marketplace

Several homeowners have been shocked to discover their newly purchased homes hosted grow-ops, despite the fact they paid for a pre-sale inspection, a Marketplace investigation has learned.

Mike Holmes takes a look at former grow-op homes

Houses can be left with damage after being used as grow-ops. ((CBC))
Several homeowners have been shocked to discover their newly purchased homes hosted grow-ops, despite the fact they paid for a pre-sale inspection, a Marketplace investigation has learned.

Marketplace met with homeowners in Toronto and in Kamloops, B.C., who recently learned their homes had once been used to grow marijuana.

In both cases, the homeowners had paid for a pre-sale home inspection and had no idea they were about to buy a former grow-op. In both cases, they were left with huge bills after problems began turning up.

Houses used for grow-ops can sometimes be left unlivable once they've been busted and closed down. Shoddy work to run vents can result in structural damage, electrical wiring tampered with to hide high energy use can be a fire hazard — and there's the issue of mould.

Marketplace enlisted construction guru Mike Holmes to do a thorough inspection of a Toronto home that had once been a grow-op before being patched up and sold to Jagat and Nirmala Prasad four years ago.

According to Holmes, the tell-tale signs of a grow-op should have been obvious to the first inspector: mould in the attic, a large vent hole in the fireplace, patch work over large holes in the ceilings.

Marketplace wanted to find out if other inspectors would see the grow-op clues and hired four inspectors to come through the house. They all had a look, checked out the basement, climbed into the attic, but not one detected that the house had been a grow-op.

Went with police on raid

What they said

Marketplace hired four home inspectors to go through the Prasad home to see if they would detect what contractor Mike Holmes, well-known for his show Holmes on Homes, said were three obvious signs of a former grow-op.

Almost anybody can call themselves a home inspector, depending on provincial standards. The four hired by Marketplace included two who were certified, and one who was registered — the highest level of accreditation in Ontario. The fourth claimed to have a masters degree in engineering.

For Holmes, the "immediate red flag" that something was amiss in the Prasad house was a large venting hole in the fireplace. He also found that the ceilings and floors had been cut open and then patched up. Here's what some of the inspectors, whose real names are not being used, said about the fireplace:

  • Certified Guy 1: "It looks actually pretty clean. For some reason they dismantled it partially so it can't be used the way it is, but the damper still works. I'm just going to put in the fireplace needs repair or replacement."
  • The Engineer: "That's a support probably. But I don't know why they cut it out. They cut that piece. You can ask them why they made a hole there."
  • Registered Guy: "Right now you cannot use it as a fireplace. If you are not using it, just take it out completely. Just use it as a straight wall. Good area for TV."

The second grow-op clue was the 25 centimetre to 30-centimetre patches that dotted the ceiling in every room — evidence that venting ducts had been run throughout the house. Here's what the inspectors said about the ceiling.

  • Certified Guy 1: "I would typically just call it minor cracks and imperfections. You can finish it if you like."
  • Certified Guy 2: ."Yeah it's OK. Just didn't do a very nice workmanship.
  • Registered Guy: "It's not going to fall and it's not dangerous or anything. So if it doesn't bother you, that's fine."

The final clue was attic mould, which Holmes says should have raised the suspicions. Here's what the inspectors said about the attic:

  • Certified Guy 1: "It's not exactly mould, but it's mildew. Overall, it's not bad."
  • The Engineer: "There's mould on the sheathing sometimes. In here it looks like they're all clean. The only thing I see is they disturbed the insulation."
  • Registered Guy: "There are some black spots there but that probably may have been from before. Usually it is mould but it's not a big deal."

Marketplace began its investigation by accompanying police on a drug raid in Brampton to see how a grow-op can destroy a house and to look at the modifications throughout the home.

Peel Regional Police Det. Jason Kirkpatrick pointed out a hydro bypass.

"This is your theft of electricity. Just be careful of all the wiring. It's very dangerous here," he said to the Marketplace team.

"It's terrible. The structural damage that they do from breaking the foundation, and this is just the basement we've seen so far," said Kirkpatrick. "What will happen is over time, we've seen houses start to leak because of these breaks in the foundation."

There were marijuana plants in every room, along with wiring and vents.

"They want to get the hot air and the smell out or they'll get detected," said Kirkpatrick. "The watering will take place right inside of this bedroom. Mould is going to grow on the wall and on the floors."

"I think a proper inspector would notice some of the telltale signs, such as ventilation being left in the attics," he said.

Did everything right

The Prasads thought they did everything right by buying a four-bedroom home in a quiet neighbourhood.

Now, they're faced with tens of thousands of dollars to deal with a bad mould problem and much more to repair structural damage caused when floor joists were cut to make way for venting.

Holmes, whose motto is "Make it right," is known for his criticism of shoddy construction and bad contractors, and he doesn't hold back when it comes to home inspectors.

"Do you think it should be part of an inspector's job to know about grow-ops? I say yes!" said Holmes.

At the Prasad house, Holmes found his first "red flag": a hole in the basement foundation.

"What did the home inspector say about this?" Holmes asked Jagat Prasad.

"He didn't say much about it. He just said you have to put [an] insert in there," Jagat replied.

"They don't care what they do to the house. They're in here to make money. Somebody covered it up and then sold it to you," said Holmes. "This is going to cost you one crap load of money."

Kamloops resident Theresa Denton is facing even worse problems. After spending $8,000 to try to solve her mould problem, she's learned her home has so many toxic mould spores she shouldn't be living there.

Her son has developed a severe mould allergy and must take steroids, and the repairs to solve the problem are calculated at more than $100,000.

"It's devastating you know. First, of course, we don't want to live in this house, but it's the only house we've got," said Denton, who is suing the former owner, her real estate agent and her home inspector.

Marketplace's Erica Johnson and construction guru Mike Holmes examine a house once used as a grow-op. ((CBC))

The biggest sign her home had been used as a grow-op is the black mould that coats one wall in her attic, caused by moisture that had been vented there from the grow rooms.

Denton said her inspector did check the attic with a flashlight.

"Either he's not telling the truth or he's just completely incompetent," she said.

Marketplace spoke with Denton's home inspector, David Mahoney, about attic mould.

"Mould will happen very quickly so," he said. "I didn't see any mould when I was there. Remember, I'm not looking for mould. I'm not a mould expert. I don't have the equipment for that so that's not part of this inspection. If I had seen something that needed to be exposed to her then I would have told her."

"I say right in my report I don't look for mould," said Mahoney.

Anyone interested in donating money to help the Denton family can do so through Toronto-Dominion Bank, using this banking information:

Transit Number: 0790

Chequing account No.: 6365230

But Holmes doesn't buy that answer.

"Well, I got a question. What the hell do you look for? You know, what are you looking for? Dog hair?" he said. "I think we need to do something about the home inspection industry. It's obvious that it's not working."

Glenn Gogal, president of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors, said a property inspection is no guarantee the new homeowner won't find problems that were missed.

"There is a lot of protection in hiring a home inspector to give you an evaluation of your property, but it's not a 100 per cent. It can't be," said Gogal.

He admitted it didn't look good that all four inspectors missed signs that the Prasad house had been a former grow-op.

"Can a random sample of four different inspectors miss something like this on one house? I think that's just wrong, personally, I really do," he said.

Asked what action he would take on the matter, Gogal replied: "I can send out an email to our membership saying that this is the scenario, and it was four out of four, so like heads up and pay attention."

As for the Prasads, the only good news they've received so far is that an air quality check found the mould spore count is low enough for them to remain their house while repairs are done.

"It's a major concern because right now we thought we were paying a mortgage towards an asset," said Jagat. "But we're paying it toward a liability now."