July 9, 2005
Grow house disclosure is critical
People have a right to know before buying
Mould, damage may be hidden in these structures
Should the Toronto police maintain a public registry of homes that have been
used for marijuana grow houses? Is there an obligation on a vendor to disclose
that fact when selling a house?
An email I recently received from a home inspector in Durham raises the
interesting question of the obligation to disclose whether a house being offered
for sale was ever used for a marijuana grow operation.
David Wall, of Pillar to Post Home Inspection in Oshawa wrote to say that he had
recently completed a home inspection for a young couple buying their first home
in Ajax. The house was vacant and the agent was from out of town.
During the inspection, Wall immediately noticed red flags indicating that the
house had been used as a grow operation. A door which did not meet building code
had been cut from the garage to the living room.
Modifications were noted to the plumbing and electrical systems, the chimney and
the building structure.
There was evidence that equipment had been hanging from the floor joists and
there was digging in the vicinity of the hydro meter.
Wall advised his purchaser clients to contact Durham Regional Police to see if
there was a history on file for this house. The police told the would-be
purchasers that due to the privacy legislation, they could not disclose
anything. The couple talked to a neighbour who was also tight-lipped.
Wall asked me if there was any protection for people buying these homes.
The concern is that the humidity in grow houses usually results in toxic mould
and other damage to the structure which is not always visible during an
Grow houses are often sold by banks or other lenders under mortgage default
proceedings, or by innocent landlords who got stuck with the ultimate "tenant
The privacy argument doesn't seem to apply to all Ontario police forces.
London's police department, for example, lists local grow-op locations on its
website for the world to see.
http://www.police.london.ca/AboutLPS/cid/CIDGrowHouseAddress.htm, the force
lists 30 properties where they have executed search warrants during the last 14
months, and the quantity of marijuana plants seized at each location.
The Winnipeg police department lists 35 locations on its website where grow
operations have been dismantled. At its site (go to
http://www.winnipeg.ca/police and click on ``Drug Awareness''), you'll find
a strong endorsement of the practice by the Winnipeg Real Estate Board.
A published statement from the Winnipeg Real Estate Board on the police website
says, "The board and its 1,200 members commend the WPS (Winnipeg Police Service)
for taking this important initiative to make the list of identified grow-ops
available on this website.''
I was unable to find references to any specific grow-op locations on the Toronto
Police Service website, nor was I able to find mention of the topic on the
Toronto Real Estate Board website. TREB used to list grow houses on its site,
but removed the list after passage of the federal privacy legislation.
No news, in this case, may not necessarily be good news. Referring to the Ajax
property he had visited, Wall told me: "I know what is going to happen with this
house. It was taken off the market. They will finish the basement so you cannot
see the altered plumbing, electrical and structure, and someone will buy this
"The police know, hydro knows . . . but the real victim will be the purchaser
who buys this as his or her first home and knows nothing and gets no help from
the people that do know how this home was used."
Barry Lebow, a Toronto appraiser recognized as an expert on real estate stigma,
says, "There's something wrong when innocent homeowners . . . have to disclose
UFFI (urea formaldehyde home insulation) even though UFFI was never proven to be
a health hazard.
"For some reason, grow houses are not perceived to be as big a problem. The UFFI
seller has to disclose but the grow house seller does not.
``The biggest rub is that the realtor, if they know about it having been a grow
house, has to disclose while the seller does not. Is something wrong with this
In its manual of optional clauses for use by real estate agents, the Ontario
Real Estate Association has an excellent clause relating to grow operations.
The clause has the seller warrant and represent that the building was not used
"for the growth or manufacture of any illegal substances" during his or her
period of ownership, and that "to the best of the seller's knowledge and belief,
the use of the property and the buildings and structures thereon has never been
for the growth or manufacture of illegal substances."
I've never seen the clause used, but I think it should be made part of the
printed form so it would appear in every offer. No one should ever be tricked
into buying a grow house unknowingly.
What do you think? Should the location of grow houses be a matter of public
record or are the privacy rights of the owners more important? Should there be a
standard grow house clause in agreements of purchase and sale? Should there be a
disclosure requirement to protect purchasers? Send your comments to
email@example.com, or fax 416-364-3818.
Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818.
Visit the Toronto Star column archives at http://www.aaron.ca/columns for articles on this and other topics or his main webpage at www.aaron.ca.