BY JENNIFER MADRIGALEastvale – The road to rehabilitating a pot house is a long and arduous one, costing the homeowner time and a significant amount of money in order to restore it to being habitable.
A few months ago the Eastvale Community News explained how pot houses are identified and what goes into finding one; and earlier this month we gave you a video exclusive of what the inside of a pot house looks like. But what happens after the police leave? Read on…Once a home is identified, be it through police detective work or from a homeowner calling the police, a pot house begins to be processed. The Eastvale Police Department’s Special Forces team comes in and identifies and tags evidence, takes pictures, destroys drugs in all stages of development, and clears the home of all evidence, materials, money, weapons, etc. The police then contact the city and Southern California Edison (SCE). SCE comes out and immediately shuts off the power. The city sends building and city code officials to inspect the home for mold and other contaminants. The house is then “red tagged” and deemed uninhabitable until permits are pulled and all damage is corrected.
The most common problems that these houses endure are the major modifications made to the air conditioning system, primarily to cool the attic and avoid infrared detection; mold in the ceilings, floors and walls; torn up drywall with insulation removed; pipe damage due to marijuana and corrosive pesticides being flushed in the drains; carpet damage due to “seeding” fallout; and water damage to walls and floors (both floors in a two-story dwelling). These modifications can cause significant safety risks to the structure and any occupants, and must be corrected immediately. Of course all of this is provided that the house does not catch fire due to the amping up of the electrical system to engage the high-intensity sun-spectrum lighting, and bypassing the system to avoid SCE detection and payment of electricity.
According to Tim Steenson, building official for the City of Eastvale, the city issues a variety of permits that are necessary for the safe restoration of these residences. The first permit, to regain electrical power, is kept separate in order to allow the homeowner the power needed to initiate repairs while the home is still red-tagged. Only when the electrical damages to the distribution system have been repaired and approved by SCE and the city, can power be restored.
Another important permit needed is for the actual rehabilitation of the house. This specialized permit involves the clearing of mold by appropriately trained professionals; the repair of structural damage to the home including drywall and duct work; the removal of extra air conditioning equipment and the return of standard flow; and ensuring all parts of the home are up to code and safe. Once all of these repairs are made, the city will then return to do a final inspection. If the home is approved, it can be removed from red tag status. Then the work of replacing carpets, flooring, pipes, paint, cabinetry, appliances and anything else that might have been damaged apart from the structure comes into play.
So who pays for all this damage? Homeowner insurance often has a “no criminal activity” clause, and although homeowners may be able to re-coup some of their money, they can end up being stuck with the costs. Sgt. Davis of Eastvale’s Special Forces team assigned to these grow houses, says that homeowners can try and re-sell the expensive equipment used in the process, (lights, fans, etc.) to try and make some of the money back. The criminals that leave these things behind are usually unable to come back and retrieve their equipment, furniture, and televisions, and the sale of such might allow the homeowners to make a little of the money back.
In 2012, a convicted pot-grower in Florida was presented not only with jail time, but with an electrical utility bill in the amount of $26,000 and ordered to pay. Other convictions have resulted in financial repayment to the victims of these crimes, but that is not a probable solution. Many criminals are never caught. At any rate, the homeowner is ultimately responsible, and any restitution from a conviction would be a long, long way down the road.
With all the damage that these houses endure, and the major costs associated with their repair, shutting them down before they start or when they are in their early stages is crucial. According to Eastvale Police Department’s Lt. Yates at the May 28 Safety Council Meeting, marijuana grow houses are decreasing in Eastvale. “To date we have had 55 houses seized and shut down, but where we once had three or four a week, we are now down to about one per month,” said Yates. This shows that the collaborative efforts of law enforcement and the City, as well as the awareness of the community, is working. We are driving these houses out of our city.
K.P. Sander contributed to this story.