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Registry of grow-op homes urged for province

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Realtors want the province's help to protect homebuyers from unwittingly purchasing a property that once housed a marijuana grow-op or drug lab.

The Manitoba Real Estate Association said Monday it has requested a meeting with the government to discuss the establishment of a central registry where police would list properties that have been used as drug-production sites. It also wants the province to establish remediation standards for cleaning up such properties.

"A drug-production-site registry is a classic example of good use of public authority -- to provide standardized information that enables citizens to make informed judgments," Claude Davis, chairman of the MREA's grow-ops task force, said in a statement.

The association said indoor drug-production sites are being found on a weekly basis in Manitoba. It said grow-ops and synthetic drug labs can create a health or safety hazard due to the presence of mould, toxic residues and gases in the home.

MREA spokesman Lorne Weiss said there also have been instances where holes were drilled through the foundation wall to add a power line to the house to circumvent the hydro meter, and holes were drilled in the roof to provide additional ventilation, creating potentially dangerous structural issues.

"So it's not unreasonable (in cases like that) to expect tens of thousands of dollars in repairs to bring a house back up to acceptable standards," he added.

Tom Fulton, broker/owner of Re/Max Performance Realty in Winnipeg, said he'd welcome the establishment of a central registry.

Fulton said his company currently has a new listing for an older Winnipeg bungalow that housed a grow-op in 2005. Although the home has sold twice since then, that fact was never disclosed prior to either sale. The current owner only learned about it in 2012 from a neighbour, and it's likely going to reduce the price he gets for the home.

"Obviously the house had been cleaned up nicely. During both (earlier) listings, it had shown well, with no indication of there having been grow-op activities," he said. "It illustrates the problem of not having a registry and not having a way to easily check that."

The MREA said although the RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service collect information and compile lists on such properties, the details are scattered in various files and databases and not fully accessible to the public in a clear, up-to-date way. The WPS's list, for example, only dates back for one year.

And while real estate agents are required to disclose if they're aware a property has been used as a drug-production site, "without accurate and timely information, doing so is not always possible," the association said.

Weiss said the association would like to draw up an action plan this summer and have legislation introduced as early as this fall.

"There's no advantage to delaying this. Other provinces are working towards it."

The Manitoba government issued a statement saying it was looking forward to meeting with the MREA to discuss its concerns. It also said it was already planning to introduce legislation to better protect consumers, including regulating home inspectors. But it didn't say when legislation might be forthcoming.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2014 B4

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