Police: illegal marijuana growing leading to rise in compromised houses

A local police chief says illegal marijuana grow houses are being busted, flipped, and sold to sometimes unsuspecting homebuyers.
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:25 PM EDT
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MONSON, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A local police chief says illegal marijuana grow houses are being busted, flipped, and sold to sometimes unsuspecting homebuyers.

On Main Street in Monson sits an eyesore. While it’s empty now, just two years ago, it was filled with hundreds of marijuana plants.

“They actually take over the entire house and garage and basement and it’s unbelievable what they do,” said Karen King with the Karen King Group at Remax Connections.

The house is among four single-family homes in Monson and Palmer busted as part of an illegal cultivation operation in 2020. Federal agents seized 600 to 900 marijuana plants from each home and arrested two men from Brooklyn and Chicago. Soon after, some of the homes went on the market and King stepped foot inside one.

“This summer, I showed a house and the agent had not put a disclosure that it had been a grow house and I went in without a mask and I immediately had problems with my lungs,” King added.

Real estate agents must disclose anything that could materially affect a home and King said a former grow house can host a minefield of dangers.

“When I got inside, there were wires hanging everywhere. The electrical service had been tampered with, the plumbing was all over the place, there were pipes hanging from everywhere and the mold was outrageous,” King explained.

The issue was brought to the Monson Police Department where Chief Stephen Kozloski is now working with local realtors and alerting them about properties that may be compromised. He said there are fewer than five in Monson, but likely more than police are aware of.

“The concern is that we have an unsuspecting home buyer, perhaps a first-time home buyer, a young family starting out, moving into a house they have no background on. Again, the safety of the electrical system, the water system, or the condition of what might be behind the walls and under the floors,” Kozloski said.

While abandoned properties can affect neighborhoods and property values, Kozloski said former grow houses that have been rehabilitated can pose greater issues.

“We have no idea the quality of any of the repairs that were made to the house, whether or not they were mold infested and simply painted over,” Kozloski explained.

The moisture needed to grow marijuana plants creates mold and spores. It’s often found on walls, ceilings, and floors, but can be concealed.

“So then it makes it look like there was never anything happening there, but what is lurking underneath the sheet rock?” King asked.

That’s why King said it’s of utmost importance to get a good home inspection, complete with a moisture test to detect mold. Search the address online and use a local realtor and look for telltale signs, like ceiling vents and patchy electrical work, which can increase the chance of a house fire.

“We saw that, in some instances, they were running multitudes of extension cords throughout the property,” Kozloski added.

As for the former grow house King showed to a client, property records show it was sold. The original listing agent didn’t respond to our request for comment. The agent for the current owners said the home is being totally rehabilitated and remediated and will be back on the market soon.

“Luckily, I have no, I’m not asthmatic, I have no lung issues, so it wasn’t a big problem, but it really could’ve been,” King said.

The abandoned home is still owned by the incorporation linked to the cultivation ring and Kozloski said the town’s hands are tied unless it falls behind on taxes. At that point, the town could take the property and that would then become a burden to taxpayers.