Imagine you’re in the market for a car. You see an advert for a nice looking machine and you go to check it out. The body work has seen better days, but it’s whole and intact. Maybe it needs a new coat of paint, but there’s no rust. The inside is immaculate, with the seats reupholstered in luxurious material, a new stereo system and sat nav in the dash and it runs ok. When you take a look under the hood, you can see there’s still some work to be done, and maybe some big jobs a few years down the line, but nothing that can’t be sorted out in time. More to the point, it’s the kind of car you can use right away AND stil have the final bits of the restoration as your hobby for a few years to come. It’s all good. You hand over the cash and drive away in your new car.
Two weeks later, an inspector arrives. He’s concerned about your new car. He tests the emissions, listens to the engine, has a close look at the sub-frame. He’s not happy about what he sees and he shows you a few things he’s found. The exhaust system isn’t right for this type of car, and it’s leaking badly. In fact, it could even be venting into the car and damaging you and your family as you drive around. Look here at these weld marks – this isn’t even one car, it’s two or three cobbled together. Here, he’s got a report that proves the previous owner used this car in some illegal street races, probably making a pile of money, getting the car pretty smashed up in the process. He patched up the machine and sold it on to you, you chump. Now here’s the tough break. You have to get this car up to spec within a week, or the inspector will impound it, and you’ll get a fine. Yes, he knows you’re not the one who did all the illegal stuff, but you’re the owner of this car now, it’s down to you to fix it.
That sounds like a hard luck story, but it’s pretty much what happened to us a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a car though. It was our house. Yep, the lovely new Wonkey house, our brilliant purchase and project has proved to be too good to be true after all. Despite being cautious, using a Property Inspector and dealing with reputable Realtors, we got stuck with a house that used to be a Grow Op (a marijuana farm, for you non-North Americans) What’s so bad about that? Well, the amount of power used to run the lights that grow the weed has burned out the main power cable to the house and left it a dangerous fire hazard. The heat and damp conditions promote the growth of mould and the plants themselves leave spores in the heating system and can contaminate the drywall itself. The Inspection Team said we were very lucky to be allowed to stay in the house at all, and gave us a week to have the work completed and the house brought up to code.
Naturally we asked a few pointed questions of our Realtor, and consulted solicitors. Their opinion was that we had a cast-iron case and could expect to recover any costs through the courts in as little as three years. Provided we could find the previous owners. And they didn’t hide their assets. So we shouldn’t attempt to contact them or in any way alert them to the fact that we were aware they defrauded us by selling a house they knew to have been used for a Marijuana Farm.*
All this had me furious and raving for a week or so. The electrical folks came in and dug up the garden to get at the cable and rewired pretty much the whole house. Every inch of ceiling is now covered with smoke detectors and we have Carbon Monoxide detectors in every room. I evacuated Moose and Maxi the Hamster for a whole day while the house was filled with Ozone to kill the mould and spores, and then I tore out the contaminated drywall and ripped up the old lino and bleached the floor underneath. After a fortnight’s work and around four thousand dollars, we’ve nearly got the house we paid for, and that figure doesn’t include money lost through working days destroyed by work on the house/electricity/mould.
But with the completion of the work, we’ve achieved a bit of serenity. The house is better than it was now, and though the stigma of Grow Op will remain for years, we’re not planning to move out and sell anytime soon, so the lost value doesn’t count yet. We’ve kept careful records and kept copies of all the reports and certificates and photographs. We’re using the work as a springboard for our own renovations, starting with carpeting the basement and moving on to the deck. We have more visitors arriving soon, and we want the place to look like a home, not a stoner’s dream. There are still days when I could cheerfully throttle the previous owners, but I mostly just want to ask them why. Why sell the house and lie? For more money, obviously, I guess, but how can you tell that barefaced lie? What if we’d met them face-to-face and asked them if it had been a Grow Op? Would they have admitted it then, or continued to lie? One day I may get to ask them, but for now I’m turning the page and claiming my home back.
*Ok, legal folks, I know that’s supposition on my part, but the evidence that lead the Inspection Team to come to the house in the first place indicated that the farm was still running in the basement of the house up until the week before we visited the house for the first time, well within the time that the house was under the ownership of the previous owners. Also, in redecorating the basement they covered over many of the signs of the Grow Op, including the place where they had bypassed the electricity meter to get free electricity. I can’t believe they could have missed all the signs. Even if they weren’t running it, they knew it was there, and they signed a contract that said the house had not been used to grow weed.