Agents Beware – what to do if you suspect a cannabis farm

A law firm is warning that agents and landlords should carefully follow correct procedures if they suspect a rented property is being used as a cannabis farm.

Hägen Wolf says the lockdown has seen a proliferation of cannabis farms being created, with increased numbers of police raids as a result: Nottinghamshire Police, for example, says it has seen a rise of 280 per cent in cannabis plant seizures during lockdown over the same period last year.

Philip Copley, a solicitor at Hägen Wolf, says: “Landlords should seek to terminate the tenancy, but in reality that can be easier said than done. The landlord needs to take some action, and quickly so that they are not seen as condoning the behaviour.”

The firm advises that in the case of a standard assured shorthold tenancy, the landlord can rely upon section 8 of the Housing Act 1988, and serve a notice to terminate the tenancy based on ground 12 (a discretionary ground-based on any breach of the tenancy agreement) or ground 14 (applicable where the tenant is guilty of a nuisance or has been convicted of illegal conduct).

Usually, only two weeks’ notice is required before court action can begin, although this has been temporarily changed to three months during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, there are no such restrictions on applying for an injunction requiring the tenant to cease the illegal use.

Copley continues: “A landlord cannot just change the locks – that is illegal, and so court proceedings must be initiated to recover possession of the property. Both grounds are discretionary, which means the onus is on the landlord to prove that the tenant’s conduct is so bad that the Judge is justified in evicting them.

“That means that the landlord, and any helpful neighbours, should keep a detailed log of conduct such as night-time visitors, strange noises, or any funny smells, which might indicate that illegal activity is taking place, and ideally supported by photographs and videos. If it is safe and possible to report the matter to the council or police, then do so – that can create a paper trail which strengthens the landlord’s case.”

In the case of a long residential lease, as is common with flats, a clause against ‘illegal or immoral conduct’, will likely exist.

In these situations, where the owner of a flat is undertaking illegal action at the property,  the building owner should make an application to the Residential Property division of the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) for a determination that there has been a breach.

Once that has happened, the landlord should then serve the flat owner with a notice under section 146 of the Law of Property Act 1925, and then begin court proceedings to evict them.

The process is known as ‘forfeiture’, and it means that the ownership of the flat will revert to the landlord, who can then sell it to, often for a substantial return.  In most cases though starting this process will simply prompt the flat owner to take steps to evict or injunct the tenant in order to avoid losing their flat.

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