Release solicitor Kirstie Douse answers your legal questions in her regular column
Reader’s question: I am a landlord of a flat that I own and rent out, and I think the tenants may be growing cannabis. I live in a different city so I’m not there often, but the last few times I have visited recently one of the rooms has always been locked. I have also noticed quite an increase in the electricity usage – the tenants pay for this but the bill is still in my name. They’re good tenants – I don’t want to make them leave. Could I get in trouble if they are doing this?
Kirstie says:There is potential for someone involved in the management of premises (eg a landlord) to be charged and prosecuted with an offence under section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, if they knowingly permit or suffer that property to be used for the production of a controlled drug.
Just being suspicious that production is occurring is not enough to be an offence, but being wilfully blind or ignorant of what is happening is likely to be. In your case, you have your suspicions and if you choose to ignore them without question there is a risk of prosecution.
If the police do investigate production of cannabis at your property, and consider your involvement or knowledge of this, they will look at the particular facts of the case. It will be relevant that you live far away and don’t attend the property much, as this would indicate little opportunity to have knowledge of the tenant’s actions. However, they will also take into account whether in the circumstances you should have known what was going on and just ignored it. The electricity bill being in your name and the increase in energy use would probably be used to indicate that you should have at least queried what was going on and in not doing so you were being intentionally ignorant.
Any action a landlord has taken to stop the illegal activity will be very important. Managers of properties often try to avoid prosecution for this offence by recording any warnings where they suspect a tenant is engaged in illegal activity. Although this tends to be used more in hostels/supported accommodation, it is something you can consider. Many tenancy agreements have clauses relating to criminal activity, and state that a breach of this can be grounds for possession and eviction. Taking these steps is likely to go in a landlord’s favour, if not to avoid prosecution then to reduce any possible sentence.
Depending on the seriousness of the offence, considering the level of knowledge or involvement, there is a risk of a prison sentence for this offence. However, a community order is the most likely sentence, depending on any aggravating/mitigating factors including previous convictions for the same or similar offence.
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For more information about this issue please contact the Release legal helpline on 0845 4500 215.