Barely a day goes by without regional newspapers publishing a court report in which some local miscreant is sentenced for brewing meth or growing weed, and selling their illicit produce by the back gates of the nearest comprehensive.
Small scale narcotics production is a growing cottage industry in the UK, but where do the budding entrepreneurs find the premises to engage in their amateur agriculture?
Often in actual cottages as it turns out.
Under conditions of anonymity, RentWorks spoke to one Liverpool landlord who was unwittingly caught up in the drugs trade.
Eddie (not his real name) owns several properties across the Merseyside area, ranging from one bedroom suburban flats through to six bedroom city centre townhouses, and lets them through gumtree.
“There was nothing suspicious about this couple at all,” he told RentWorks. “They replied to the advert, and were happy with the house. They had cash up front for the deposit, and agreed to pay by standing order. They seemed like a perfectly normal couple.”
The couple to whom Eddie had let his three bedroom semi-detached property were the perfect tenants. They always paid on time and never called about maintenance or repairs. They kept themselves to themselves, and it was nearly a year later that it became clear that the tenants weren’t who or what they had claimed to be.
“The rent just stopped coming in one day,” said Eddie. “I assumed there was a problem with the bank and so I phoned the guy up. Nothing. No answer. I tried again the next day, and the day after that, and in the end, I decided to go round.”
From the outside, the property looked normal, but there was mail jammed outside the letter box, and papers stacked by the door. Fearing that his tenants had moved out without giving notice, Eddie used his key to gain access and was shocked by what he saw.
“It was almost industrial inside,” he said. “They had stripped the carpets out, and the floorboards were soaked. The utility cupboard had the door removed and it looked like they had rewired the meter.”
But it was when Eddie went upstairs that he realised the true extent of the damage.
“From the top of the stairs, I could see straight up into the roof space. They had removed the ceiling and hooked up these high intensity lights. There was soil all over the floor, and even the partition walls were gone.”
With the house a wreck, and no sign of the tenants, Eddie had no choice but to call the police, who told him what he had already suspected – his detached house in a quiet suburban neighbourhood had been completely converted into a cannabis farm.
The former tenants had also altered their electricity supply, and left him with a bill that ran into the thousands.
“I’ve never been happier that I’ve had insurance,” he said. “The work I needed to do to get the property back into a lettable condition was mind-boggling. Essentially, all I had left was a shell. Ceilings needed to go back up. New carpets. New walls. Decorating. The whole experience was an absolute nightmare.”
Thankfully, Eddie was able to explain to the power company that any costs incurred by the tenants were not his responsibility.
And although it’s estimated that upwards of £200,000 worth of cannabis was grown on the premises, the culprits were never tracked down.