PICTURE THE SCENE. You are the owner of an isolated four bedroom bungalow in rural Co Galway and the recession is starting to bite.
Before you know it, you’ve found a tenant who always pays their rent on time and never bothers you with anything. So far, so perfect.
Or is it?
The above scenario isn’t a fiction, but was the reality for John (not his real name).
Far from living in the house, the women who signed the lease disappeared, never to the seen again.
As tonight’s Ear to the Ground – to be shown on RTÉ One at 8.30pm - shows, John is one of an increasing number of people who have unknowingly had his rented property turned into a ‘grow house’
Used for the cultivation of cannabis, grow houses in Ireland are part of a multi-million euro industry that is, for the most part, seeking solace in the rural, isolated houses and farms throughout Ireland.
In 2011, Gardaí raided 60 premises which had been used to grow cannabis, and John’s story shows just how easy it can happen.
Having placed an ad to rent out the Co Galway bungalow, he was contacted the very next day by a woman. After a short meeting, she took it, and had already paid the first month’s rent.
While slightly suspicious of her eagerness, John was glad to have found a tenant.
Within a week net curtains had been erected on the windows and no-one ever appeared to enter or leave the house – least of all the women who had signed the lease.
150 cannabis plants
After four months, John was told that Gardaí were outside his rented house. Having arrived on the scene, they entered.
Upon entering the kitchen, they discovered that a large section of the wall was missing, behind which the electricity was now being taken directly from the nearest pylon, bypassing the metered house supply completely.
In the attic, they discovered that two rooms had been constructed which housed approximately 150 cannabis plants. The rooms in the rewired house had their own ventilation and lighting systems.
“This is what bewilders us,” John said. “There’s two neighbours who live beside the house… we go past it twice or three times a day and we never saw as much as a piece of timber go into the house. We saw nothing.”
Shocked to have discovered what his house was being used for, John had no idea how much it would cost him financially.
With the house badly damaged by the changes which had been made, the costs of repair ran into thousands of euros.
As tonight’s programme uncovers, when landlords let their property the view is usually taken by insurance companies that they have voluntarily let the tenants into their house. As a result of this, it is the landlord, as John was to find out, that is personally liable for fixing any damage.
The only way to avoid this in most cases is to prove that the damage was caused by a third party and not the tenant themselves.
Knowing what to look out for
Garda Superintendent David Taylor told presenter Darragh McCullough that schemes such as this usually involve a ‘front couple’, who will appear respectable. They are the ones that will make the initial contact and sign the lease, never to be seen again.
Taylor warns that landlords should be suspicious if a potential tenant offers to pay the rent for months in advance (cannabis plants have a 12-week growth cycle).
It is also important to remember that landlords check their property and know their rights. Once tenants have been made aware that landlords plan to perform spot-checks of the property, they only need to give 24 hours notice.
“We made a mistake, if you want to call it a mistake, and we’ve learned from it. Maybe I was naive but you’d wonder how it is actually going on under your nose,” the out-of-pocket landlord said.
The amount of equipment that was brought into that house at night and that no-one saw anything amazes me.
For more on this, check out Ear to the Ground on RTÉ One at 8.30pm tonight.