It happened to me...my rental was turned into a grow house

15 Replies

A property of mine in the California Central Valley went vacant at the end of November. For the past 4 years, I had a family renting the SFH. I performed annual inspections, serviced the the HVAC filter and smoke alarms, ect, so I was able to see the inside of the property every year and it always looked very well maintained. Fast forward to this November: I get a text from an international number. The person claims to be my tenant and says that he was deported, and that his friend has been living at the porperty for the past 8 months. He also claims the house is empty and that I can have access. I'm immediately suspicious, so I make a trip out to the property and find all the locks changed and the blinds closed. Just to be safe, I post a 24 Hour Notice to Enter and come back the next day. I arrive at the property, drill the locks out, and gain access. Everything is absolutely filthy (no surprise there). The carpet is trashed, the 2 bathrooms probably need to be gutted and remodeled, missing doors, broken windows, and the power is off (meter has been removed).

This is where it gets interesting. I start talking to the neighbors, and they say that the police and a news van were at the house about a month ago, and that some people got arrested. At this point, I do a quick google search on my phone and that's when I saw pictures of the house and of the marijuana grow operation that was taking place. The news story mentioned that the operation was discovered because the tenants were stealing power, so I instantly knew there were going to be some serious electrical issues. I pulled the electrical panel apart and luckily, it was in good condition and completely untouched. However, when i went in the garage, I found a section of drywall had been cut out underneath the electrical panel. I removed it and found where the tenant had illegally tapped into the utility power. Basically, they cut the feeder conduit before the meter, carefully strip away some of the insulation on the wires and then use some type of alligator clip or splice device to hook up the equipment used for growing (lights, fans, ect). Ugh...

After talking with the utility company and some contractor friends, it appears that restoring power is going to be a drawn out, complicated process. I wanted to post some pictures and document this process in case someone else runs into this issue. The first step requires all of the damage to the electrical system to be fixed, and a permit/inspection from the city so that they can issue a meter release to the electric company. I'm working with an electrician in the area to get the ball rolling on that. 

 Any advice from people who have dealt with something like this is always welcome.

WHAT?!?!? The fact that the growers made it to jail is a miracle! They should have been severely electrocuted to death in a very painful way while cutting the main feed to the utility meter! That is unregulated secondary power from the transformer. The question I would ask the utility is why this cutting of the meter feed did not trip a safety breaker in the transformer and shut down power to the house? Your house could have burned down! Don’t get anywhere near that exposed feeder cable for fear it is still live. The utility company is going to have to get in to the transformer feeding the house, isolate the breaker, and refeed a new cable in the conduit to your meter. How far away is the transformer from the house? Long lengths is bad because that gauge of wire is not cheap.

Originally posted by @Tyler Resnick :

WHAT?!?!? The fact that the growers made it to jail is a miracle! They should have been severely electrocuted to death in a very painful way while cutting the main feed to the utility meter! That is unregulated secondary power from the transformer. The question I would ask the utility is why this cutting of the meter feed did not trip a safety breaker in the transformer and shut down power to the house? Your house could have burned down! Don’t get anywhere near that exposed feeder cable for fear it is still live. The utility company is going to have to get in to the transformer feeding the house, isolate the breaker, and refeed a new cable in the conduit to your meter. How far away is the transformer from the house? Long lengths is bad because that gauge of wire is not cheap.

Around here they dont disconnect the transformer when the utility company ups the service , they work on the wires while they are hot . The guys just wear heavy duty rubber gloves .  On new construction when they are hooking up the electric they dig down to the wires and connect them while they are hot . The wire going to the meter is the electric companies in my area , meter to the house is the customers

@Matthew Paul   in Mississippi I have seen tenants jack the power by taking a close hanger and hooking it to the hot line then stick it in the meter.. these guys are quite skilled at this as its a skill passed down .

@David Goossens   we had a grow house .. it was destroyed  entire house had to be taken down to the studs and rebuilt.. kitchen baths all removed and destroyed..

I would make an insurance claim and see if somehow they will help you.

Originally posted by @Matthew Paul :
Originally posted by @Tyler Resnick:

WHAT?!?!? The fact that the growers made it to jail is a miracle! They should have been severely electrocuted to death in a very painful way while cutting the main feed to the utility meter! That is unregulated secondary power from the transformer. The question I would ask the utility is why this cutting of the meter feed did not trip a safety breaker in the transformer and shut down power to the house? Your house could have burned down! Don’t get anywhere near that exposed feeder cable for fear it is still live. The utility company is going to have to get in to the transformer feeding the house, isolate the breaker, and refeed a new cable in the conduit to your meter. How far away is the transformer from the house? Long lengths is bad because that gauge of wire is not cheap.

Around here they dont disconnect the transformer when the utility company ups the service , they work on the wires while they are hot . The guys just wear heavy duty rubber gloves .  On new construction when they are hooking up the electric they dig down to the wires and connect them while they are hot . The wire going to the meter is the electric companies in my area , meter to the house is the customers

What I am used to is the utility company suits up (rubber smok, gloves and face shield), connects the breaker in the transformer with what they call a ‘clown pole’ which is a 10ft fiberglass rod with a hook. They run the secondary feed first (dead) in the conduit trench to the meter base, and suit up to connect the breaker second which activates the service, and then they drop the meter third. I am surprised to hear they work on the secondary feed live in your area. Our area is the same in regards to responsibility though. The utility covers the transformer, secondary feed, secondary conduit, meter base, and finally the meter. The homeowner is responsible for everything downstream of the meter to the point of consumption.

@Tyler Resnick I checked those feeders for voltage and found that they were disconnected. I'm guessing PGE disconnected them in the underground vault across the street.

A good piece of information for anyone dealing with something like: the utility company owns the feeder wire up to the meter. It is their job to fix that portion of the wire. They will do this by pulling out the old wire and pulling in new wire. However, The pvc conduit that comes out of the foundation and goes to the panel is the homeowner's responsibly to repair. 

Is it any wonder that many states are so tenant friendly? They are such a nice bunch! It is we landlords that are the menace.

Pictures I saw of a grow house that became REO was that automobile jumper cables were used to make the connections, where the OP mentioned alligator clips being used.

Now, where are the pictures of the water damage from inside the house? Flooring and drywall ceilings don't fare well in the dampness. Getting those corrected is where you're going to be spending some money.

@Steve Babiak

The damage is not as bad as it could have been. I don't think they were growing for more then a couple months, otherwise the damage would have been far more extensive. Both bathrooms are pretty trashed and will probably be gutted. There is drywall damage in the ceilings where they were hanging lights and fans. Luckily the house is on a slab and I have tile everywhere, except for the bedrooms, so no water damage in the floors. Although, I guess the walls could be damaged. I will post more on the rehab after we tear into it.

@David Goossens your tenant was deported - in other words they were not here legally. Did you screen the tenant? You say that his friend has been living there 8 months - who has been sending you rent? I seems you are a little too hands off.

@Joe Splitrock

In California, it is very common for noncitizens to get a drivers license, so yes I did properly screen the tenant and do a background check. I perform an annual inspection, and have done so for the past 4 years. The house was always neat and a family was living there. I’m suspicious of the timeline because my inspection 6 months ago didn’t show any signs of illegal activity. I spoke with a property’ management company In the area and they have been seeing this situation a lot. “Good”tenants with solid backgrounds rent houses, then after a few months they are gone and someone is in the house growing marijuana. Maybe quarterly inspections are the key? I don’t know?

A friends house had the same thing happen here in the Central Valley....insurance paid for all the repairs. He basically got a free remodel...and then sold the house for a big profit.....

Update: The PVC conduit going up to the electrical panel has been repaired, inspected and signed off. The second part of the project required excavating a large hole in front of the panel to expose the utility wiring where it enters the panel via a 2" PVC conduit. Once exposed, the utility company came out, confirmed that the repairs and excavation were completed correctly, and I am now scheduled for a reconnect. Basically, the they will come out, splice the wire underground, and then pull a new section of wiring into the meter socket. Once this is complete, I will be on the home stretch to getting my meter reinstalled and the power back on. 

On another note, I contacted my insurance company (after many people on this thread had suggested) and insurance has already paid for the majority of the damages which has been very helpful. Rehab is currently underway and upgrades are being made.

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