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OREA releases five-point marijuana action plan

By Sohini Bhattacharya

Realtors, prospective homebuyers and homeowners are growing increasingly concerned about the ramifications of the legalization of cannabis looming this summer. Recent polling conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of the Ontario Real Estate Association says 36.1 per cent of Ontarians are in favour of growing zero cannabis plants inside their homes, while 7.5 per cent deem it reasonable to allow one plant per home.

To safeguard Ontario homebuyers from the health and safety perils of purchasing former illegal marijuana grow-ops, OREA released a five-point Action Plan for Cannabis Legislation. At a Queen’s Park press conference, OREA president David Reid said, “the key underlying aspect of what we’re doing here is to make buildings safe for homeownership and for homebuyers.”

Current federal legislation would allow inhabitants to grow up to four plants inside their homes, although some provinces, including Quebec and Manitoba, have already decided against allowing home-grown marijuana. As highlighted by CREA CEO Michael Bourque in a recent op-ed article in the National Post, while four cannabis plants might seem innocuous, there’s no regulation on the size or number of crops per year. “With very little effort (proper irrigation and lighting) one could easily harvest three or four crops a year, which could cover a large section of a home, depending on the strain of cannabis,” Bourque wrote.

Echoing the challenges raised by CREA, OREA’s five-point report says “four recreational plants is a lot of weed” and calls for a “reduction in plants for multi-unit dwellings”.

In recognizing that the provincial government is unlikely to reject the federal edict on plant allowance per home, OREA has proposed restricting it to one plant for units smaller than 1,000 square feet.

“Condos in the GTA are as small as 500 to 600 square feet. If you have four cannabis plants in there, multiplied by the number of people in that building that are growing those plants, one can imagine the detrimental health and safety impacts it’ll have on everyone else living in that building,” says Reid.

In its fourth recommendation, “mandatory training for home inspectors”, the report underlines the health and safety threats to families living in, near and around former grow-ops, especially those with young children and seniors.

“Whether growing four plants or 40, marijuana plants are fussy,” says the report. Cultivating and harvesting cannabis indoors leads to mimicking high humidity and temperatures inside – conditions that are ripe for the formation of known breathing hazards, mould and fungus. Apart from the obvious health risks, former grow-ops also present significant structural and chemical dangers that can lead to the production of noxious gasses and explosions.

OREA’s action plan strongly recommends rigorous and mandatory training for licensed home inspectors so they can spot signs of illegal marijuana grow-ops, such as diverted electricity lines; modified ductwork; staining around vents, basement floors or laundry tubs; new plumbing; chunks of replaced brickworks; circular holes in floors or roofs; or moisture-inflicted rotting wood.

“This will better protect home buyers in Ontario from unknowingly purchasing a former grow-op and being forced to pay significant amounts of money out of pocket to properly remediate the home,” the report says.

To ensure proper remediation of former grow-op properties that have been diagnosed unsafe for habitation, OREA’s third recommendation, “registration of former grow-ops” requires municipalities to register work orders on the Ontario land titles system record. This step will guarantee the enforcement of remediation standards. Former grow-ops that pass the standards may make them eligible for removal from the record.

In the past, Realtors have seen homebuyers who’ve been refused home insurance despite having their properties remediated and brought up to building code standards. This is because, according to OREA’s report, The Insurance Bureau of Canada regards marijuana grow-ops as a “high-risk activity”.  For homebuyers to qualify for home insurance on former grow-ops, OREA’s second recommendation in the action plan, “inspect former illegal grow operations,” urges the province to collaborate with the insurance industry and mandate building inspections by municipal officials on buildings that have been designated unsafe. This will “protect future homebuyers from the risks associated with purchasing a former grow-op,” according to the stipulation.

Another important recommendation of the five-point plan is for the provincial government to take the first critical step of “designating illegal grow operations as unsafe”. This would mean an amendment to the Building Code Act, thus blacklisting illegal grow-ops and restricting owners of such drug properties from selling to innocent homebuyers.

“We’re really concerned that unsuspecting families are going to step into a nightmare scenario whereby they take ownership of a property with a whole bunch of health and safety issues as a result of being the site of a former grow-op,” says Matthew Thornton, OREA’s VP of public affairs and communications.

The Canadian marijuana industry is estimated at $7 billion. To assume that the legalization of marijuana will eliminate organized crime is “naive”, according to RCMP assistant commissioner Joanne Crampton, who in September 2017 warned the House of Commons Senate Committee of operators becoming more sophisticated in running clandestine grow-ops in residential areas where families are enlisted as “crop sitters”.

The bottom line is that former grow-ops come with significant insurance and financing problems. With the release of their recommendations, OREA says there is urgency to protect vulnerable homebuyers when buying a home. The association has worked with MPP Lisa Macleod, who introduced two private member’s bills on the issue.

“I think now that the province has completed their work on the distribution and sale of cannabis in Ontario, they are ready to turn their attention to these important issues,” says Thornton.