February 17, 2012

How To Survive A Rental Property Inspection When You Grow Marijuana

February 17, 2012
image via: grow-room-setup.closetsystems.co.uk

The Landlord Wants To Inspect Your Place, You Grow Marijuana, What Do You Do?

Letting your landlord know that you grow marijuana, even with the protection of a medical marijuana card, is not a good idea if you can avoid it. If you are a renter, it is almost inevitable that the landlord is going to want to come over at some point in time to do a ‘walk through.’ A walk through can be anything from the landlord coming in and ‘taking a look around,’ all the way to a ‘tossing the cell’ styled search – much like me and my buddy had to deal with when I helped him pass an inspection recently.

I will give you the step by step breakdown of what happened to us, what we needed to hide from the landlord, and what steps we took in order to pull it off. It all started with the infamous ‘notice of entry’ letter that we received from the landlord. In most states, there are laws that ‘protect’ tenants from nosey landlords by requiring them to give you a 24-48 hour notice. I use quotations around the word ‘protect’ because while the law gives some protection, it doesn’t go far enough. It essentially gives landlords the right to come and harass the tenants whenever they want, so long as they mailed a very impersonal letter 24 hours before hand. If you live in a rental and grow marijuana, I suggest checking the mail EVERYDAY, otherwise you might get the notice the day of, and then you are screwed.

When my friend received the notice of entry, he had me call the landlords because I am very skilled in the art of BS. I essentially told the landlords that I would not be home the day of the walk through, and asked if there was any way to reschedule. Landlords are not required by law to be nice to their tenants, and if they want to come in after the notice, they have every right. However, landlords are humans too, and if you tug at their heart strings, they will usually make an exception. Some good excuses that I have used in the past include: being at a conference for work out of town (be prepared with company name and type of industry, always say you are in Vegas), it’s finals week and I would really prefer to wait until next week when I’m not slammed with studies and have a second to tidy up (they don’t want to come over to a pig sty), I’m currently dealing with a really bad breakup with my fiancé (this almost always works), etc. Whatever your story is, make sure to get ‘into character’ so you don’t drop the ball, and make a suspicious situation even worse!

Red button - PanicEvery landlord I have ever dealt with in this situation tries to pull the ‘well you don’t have to be home in order for us to come take a look…’ DO NOT FALL FOR THIS. Even if you are not growing marijuana, please, do not let them come over while you are not there. All you have to say is ‘my uncle is a real estate attorney, and he told me to NEVER let landlords come over when I’m not home. I don’t have anything to hide, but he says I always need to be present in case there is a discrepancy…something about legal ramifications in small claims court or something…’ Every time I have ever used that line, the person on the other end of the phone gets really shy and gives the extension. This is probably due to the fact that they have NO legal background whatsoever, and don’t want to be a part of a future lawsuit (whether it’s real or not!).

The size of your garden, the alterations you have made to the house, the method you are using to grow, and the type of neighborhood you live in are all major factors when determining a strategy to survive a walk thru. Fortunately for readers (and very unfortunately for me and my buddy!), we had to pass a walk through in the WORST conditions. We had two bedrooms and a garage FULL of plants; six plants were two weeks away from being harvested and were bigger than a human, ten plants were needing to be transplanted from veg to flower THAT DAY (!) and were a good three feet tall, we had about 50 clones that ranged between 3-9 inches tall, and had about 20 seedlings that were in the very beginnings of their life and needed to be handled with care. My buddy is a patient/grower and a caretaker/grower for several other people, so he is legal in the eyes of the law. However, he still didn’t want his landlord to know, for the reasons that I outlined in my previous article.

The size of the garden itself was just one of the problems; the method of gardening was probably the biggest problem. Had the plants been in soil, they would be easy to move to a buddy’s house and then clean up would commence. However, my buddy uses a very sophisticated hydroponic setup, and it is virtually impossible to move long distances. I had another friend try to move a similar set up once, and after being in the van swaying around for just 30 minutes with no circulation in the water, the plants keeled over and died. The roots are very sensitive in a hydroponic setup, and when they are taken out of their loving environment, they have a shorter life span than a Little Caesar’s pizza. Moral of the story — if you live in a rental, you should really consider a soil set up in the name of easy removal. If you go hydro, you are left with only two options: get rid of the plants and start over, or do what my buddy and I did and create a temporary home for them.

My friend lives in a nice suburban neighborhood, with no trees around. This was very lame, because there was no coverage in his backyard; any neighbor who was looking out their backdoor or window could see his entire backyard. The first thing we did was lay down a severe amount of pesticides all over his yard, especially where the shed was to be built. When you grow indoors, you spend a lifetime trying to keep bugs and outside elements from entering your room. We were about to put these monster plants right outside! The next step involved building a shed (from Lowe’s, $265), which would serve as a temporary home for the plants. We made sure to fill every crack where light shown through with spray foam, lined the floor of the shed with black plastic, and made sure to build the shed in the corner of the yard that was farthest away from any neighbors. Make sure to measure the square footage of your garden in order to get the correct sized shed. The last thing you want to do is run out of room in the middle of the move!

legalize marijuanaFrom there we started to deconstruct the rooms. The first room we made into a ‘workout room,’ which consisted of a weight bench, free weights, a balance pad, workout ball, medicine ball, etc. It doesn’t matter what workout stuff you put in there, just so long as it looks like an obvious exercise room. This allows you to put down ‘gym mats’ which can be purchased at any Wal-Mart ($18), should there be any stains on the floor. It also allows you to put up sports posters on the walls, should there be any holes in them. The second room we made into a ‘junk room’ and filled it with any box and tote we could get our hands on. The junk room is good, because you can put all of your ducting, lights, fans, etc. in the boxes and totes, and it just looks like you are a pack rat in that room. I know lots of people that take everything away from the grow house, which is fine too. However, it takes a lot of extra work, and when you are driving van/truck loads of stuff out one day just to put it back in the next couple days, it looks a little weird to your neighbors!

The two rooms were nothing compared to the garage. Each bedroom had two 1000w lights hanging in them, along with the accompanying ducting, fans, and a portable air conditioner. The garage had 10 lights, with a lifetime supply of ducting, fans, 2 A/C’s, and most importantly, a temporary wall that we had constructed to shield the plants from the furnace. Also, the automatic garage door was unplugged, off its track, and the garage door itself was covered with insulation and black plastic. We had two options; tear it all down and rebuild it or figure out some type of smoke and mirrors story for the landlord and keep it. We decided to go with the latter.

I pride myself on being the human ‘Three Card Monte,’ and have come up with all types of stories and half truths in order to pull the wool over a landlord’s eyes. But I have to say, I am extra proud of what I came up with for the garage at my buddy’s house. We made the garage look like a recording/jam studio for ‘our band.’ Sound acoustics would explain the cover on the garage door, as well as the temporary wall. Just to make sure, I made some homemade acoustic pads out of cardboard, R-13 insulation, and burlap fabric (I was a sound engineer when I was a teenager and early adult), and placed them all over the room. Add two ‘Sublime’ posters, an AC/DC poster, lots of DJ equipment, guitars, drums, and a microphone, and you have a full fledged jam pad!

The only things left to do at this point was to physically move the plants from their current rooms out to the shed, finish the deconstructing of the rooms, and make any necessary repairs/alterations to the house. Remember, you are not only trying to pass the walk through the day of, but you are also trying to get the landlord to leave and never come back. The smallest repair could result in the landlord sending a repair guy, or coming back over themselves in the near future. Make sure that all smoke detectors have new batteries, that there are no leaks under your sinks, and that there are no noticeable problems with the property. You are not trying to fix the house to be sold on the market; you are simply trying to get it to a good enough position that it can stay that way for 24 hours. For instance, we switched the garbage disposal, and put down some paint and ‘fake wood’ shelf liner in order to make it look like there was no leak under the sink for the last two months…

Once the shed was built, everything was deconstructed, and necessary repairs were made, the only thing left to do was to move the plants from their rooms to the shed. We did this at about 2 am under the cloak of darkness for obvious reasons. One thing to keep in mind is that it is going to be very quiet outside at that time. If you bump the shed, fart, talk at all, or don’t have your cell phone on silent, it could come back to haunt you. People are watching for tweakers and prowlers at 2am, and if they hear a noise and look out their window, the jig is up! I took some American Sign Language courses in college, so I was able to teach my friend a couple of clutch hand signs before we started. There was nothing pretty about lifting and moving hundreds of gallons of water, but we got it done!

Once we went to bed for a few hours and woke up, it was now the day of reckoning. The landlord had not been to the house for 15 months, and had no idea what the real tenant looked like. I offered to pose as my friend and go through the walk through as if I was the actual tenant. I do not recommend this to anyone, as it was a VERY unnecessary move, and if anything, just adds to the confusion and stress. However, I was trained by father who is a convicted conman, and I feel that I can ‘get into character’ and pretend to be just about anyone in a situation like that. I don’t use the skill that often because I try to be honest in most parts of my life, however, landlord harassments are not ethical, so I’m OK with fighting fire with fire!

About an hour before the landlord came over, I cooked two large packs of bacon. Nothing covers up weed smells better than bacon in my opinion, and anything that does a similar job is very suspicious (such as incense, perfume, etc.). You want to cover up the smell WITHOUT MAKING IT LOOK LIKE YOU ARE TRYING TO COVER UP THE SMELL. I know if I was a landlord coming to look for something suspicious, walking into a house that is over-powered with ‘Axe body spray’ might be a sign that something is up. You might think that this is ridiculous, but I will tell you what — no one has ever come into one of my rental properties and said ‘you are making BLT’s huh? I’m calling the cops and kicking you out…’ EVERYTIME I have been in that situation, the landlord comes in and talks about how good bacon smells, and how hungry they are! Just for good measure, I like to put strips of bacon into coffee cups, and then hide them strategically around the house. It might reek like bacon, but that’s far better than the alternative! Remember to find the cups when you are done with the walk thru though, otherwise you could have a totally different problem on your hands…Another thing I like to do is get the pan of bacon really hot, then walk all around the house and waft the smell around (much like a monk would do to ward off evil spirits in a temple). It helps permeate the smell.

By the time we had done all of this, the walk through went off without a hitch. Keep in mind, this was not a ‘just coming to look around’ walk through. These A holes looked in the fridge, measured every window and blind, checked every room to make sure that there was a door stopper present, and just about every other invasive thing that an inspector could do. Luckily though, they didn’t check the shed. When they were measuring a window from the outside one time, little did they know that they were less than ten feet away from our entire garden hidden inside the shed!

Some final thoughts as I wrap up. If you can just cut your losses and get rid of your plants, you will save a lot of stress and headache during this process. However, I will be the first to recognize that it’s not always possible to do so (as was the case in my friend’s situation). If you are in a situation where you need to salvage your garden, then I feel that the steps I have outlined in this article should be very useful to you, because they were certainly useful to my friend! The only thing that I would add to the process is to be mindful of the weather. Luckily for us, the weather was very mild (55 degrees Fahrenheit with a slight drizzle) on the day of the inspection, so it wasn’t a problem. However, if you live in an area that is very hot or very cold, you run the risk of putting your plants into a shed that can either be a frozen tundra or a super hot sauna. Make sure to check with the weather man before you make a plan!



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