You’ll find them in warehouses, farms, derelict hospitals and buried shipping containers. But what about in your property? Illegal cannabis farms are currently being discovered in residential properties across London on a scale that’s just never been seen before… and we’re not just talking the odd plant! So if you suspect that your property is being used as a cannabis farm, you’re more likely than ever to be right. But what do you do?
Advice for Landlords who’s property is being used for illegal purposes
It’s not a situation that any landlord wants to find themselves in of course, but with the number of police raids having increased by as much as 320% in some areas during the pandemic – if you do have concerns about your property in relation to drugs, it’s important that you remain attentive and adhere to the following procedures as recently set out by leading law firm and Property litigation specialists Hägen Wolf.
Philip Copley, 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.”
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 end the tenancy based on ground 12 (which is a breach of any term in the tenancy agreement other than rent) or ground 14 (nuisance, annoyance, illegal or immoral use of the property).
Whilst normally two weeks’ notice is required before court action can start, you are looking at three moths during the pandemic. You can however still apply for an injunction for the tenant to cease illegal use with no restriction.
“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.”
With long residential leases, there will likely be a clause against ‘illegal or immoral conduct’. So if the owner of a flat is engaging in illegal activity, the building owner should make an application to the Residential Property division of the First-tier Tribunal who will then be able to determine whether or not there has been a breach. Once this has been confirmed, the landlord will then be able to serve the flat owner with a notice under section 146 of the Law of Property Act 1925, and then begin the court proceedings for eviction.
‘Forfeiture’ is the name of this process, whereby the ownership of the flat reverts to the landlord, who is then able to sell – and often for a good return. In the majority of instances however, beginning this process will just prompt the flat owner to take steps to evict or injunct the tenant in order to avoid losing their flat.
Don’t Forget Regular Interim Inspections
If you have read this article then you are probably either concerned about illegal activity in your property OR you know that it is happening. Or perhaps you’re just curious about how you would tackle this problem if it arose? Whichever case is true for you; you must make sure that you place regular interim inspections firmly on your agenda in the future to prevent finding yourself in this unenviable situation (or avoid it ever happening again).
Regular inspections are the best way of making sure your tenants are taking care of your property and not engaging in illegal activity or behaving like primates! And please don’t be fooled in to thinking you have the perfect tenants! Research shows that tenants who are engaging in illegal behaviour in your property are far more likely to pay the rent on time in order to avoid suspicion. Don’t. take. any. chances!
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