Friday, 7 May 2021 | The Latest Buzz for the Appraisal Industry

Illegal Indoor Marijuana Grow Operations – Part One

Michael Cleveland
Michael S. Cleveland, President and Principal Scientist at Cleveland Environmental, Inc. and Mold Diagnostic Services.

This article originally titled, Recognizing Clandestine Indoor Marijuana Grow Operations for Property Insurance Claims and Property Management Professionals – Part One of Three Parts, was originally posted on LinkedIn. Parts two and three of this article will also be reprinted at another time.

Based on a true story…

The elderly landlord couldn’t feel much worse as he stood outside of his apartment complex in Jacksonville, Florida. He was waiting for his defense attorney and the expert she was bringing with her to inspect apartment 257.

The landlord took great pride in the apartment complex that he and his wife had owned and operated for more than 30 years. It was not only their pride and joy…it was also their nest egg for retirement and the inheritance they wanted to leave for their children. Now all was in limbo. At his age, he would not have time to make it up.

The former tenant of apartment 257 was suing them for an incredible amount of money, claiming that the landlord was negligent and that the tenant had been personally injured by exposure to toxic mold. The landlord’s insurance policy would not cover the amount the former tenant was asking for. He and his wife stood to lose everything.

Sure, the landlord had water damage and mold problems from time to time. All apartment complexes do. Sometimes it was due to some kind of leak or plumbing backup. Sometimes it was the tenant’s fault. Some were not the greatest housekeepers in the world. But the landlord had always responded to reports of water damage and mold from tenants by immediately bringing in qualified contractors to repair whatever was causing the water damage and remove any mold in a safe manner. The apartment complex was his baby, after all. He did things by the book.

But the water and mold damage in apartment 257 was incredible, to say the least! Sure, this tenant seemed to have a history of toilet and sink backups, but the landlord always brought in plumbers right away to clear the lines.

Water damage and mold were everywhere in the now-vacated apartment 257. The walls and floor of the bathroom; the floor in front of the kitchen sink; the cabinet floors of the sinks in the bathroom and kitchen; and the walls below all the windows were saturated with moisture and covered with black mold. The carpeting was soiled with black splotches everywhere, and in some places, saturated with water as well. The wood-paneled ceilings were covered with termite boroughs and crawling with termites; and there were dead cockroaches everywhere. The stench in apartment 257 was horrendous. How did this happen on his watch?

A car pulled up to the curb and his attorney got out along with her expert. His attorney had told him her expert was a Certified Industrial Hygienist with a Master of Science in Public Health, and that he was an exposure scientist with expertise in moisture intrusion and mold issues in buildings.

They all shook hands and said their hellos. The expert interviewed the landlord for a while and then described what he would be doing when he inspected apartment 257.

The expert then got to work. He started on the outside of the building apartment 257 was in, and inspected the building’s exterior and surrounding landscaping, taking photos of everything as he went along. He then grabbed a tool bag full of equipment from their car and headed inside. The landlord and attorney followed him in, but they stayed near the open entrance door where the air was fresher.

Boy, was this guy thorough! He took out a flashlight and inspected every room and closet from ceiling to floor. He inspected all of the windows from header to sill. He inspected all of the water utilities and looked under the kitchen and bathroom sinks. He opened up and examined the apartment’s HVAC unit. All the while documenting his observations with copious photos. He then opened his satchel and started taking readings with instruments. The landlord later learned that the expert had used a temperature and relative humidity meter, an infrared camera and two different moisture meters. The landlord and attorney couldn’t take the stench anymore and headed outside to wait while the expert finished his inspection.

The expert finally emerged from apartment 257. He interviewed the landlord for a while longer and then said, “I think I know what’s happened here. But let me review the case file when I get back to my office. I always want to review all of the information and data before I give my opinions.” They all shook hands and said their goodbyes.

The next day, the landlord’s attorney called him at his office with the news. “Are you sitting down, John?” she asked. “Yes, yes…” the landlord replied. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He never felt so horrible in all of his life.

“Well, it’s good news, John!” the attorney exclaimed. “My expert can testify with scientific certainty that all of the water damage, mold and insect infestation in apartment 257 was caused by a clandestine indoor marijuana grow operation. He has run into this type of situation many times and knows how to recognize the telltale signs, even when the operators try to cover them up. Your tenant was using apartment 257 like a greenhouse to grow pot. All of the damages were self-inflicted!”

The landlord’s eyes opened wide. He couldn’t believe his ears. So that’s why the tenant would never let him into the apartment to check things out for himself! It all made sense!

“So…what’s the next step?” the landlord asked tentatively, afraid to get his hopes up.

“It’s over, John,” his attorney replied. “I called the plaintiff’s attorney this morning to tell him what my expert was going to say on the witness stand, and he dropped the case like a hot potato! I would recommend that you sue the plaintiff for the damage he caused to your apartment. It would also be nice for your insurance company to recover its expenses for the case. But the plaintiff doesn’t have any net worth. It would be like trying to get blood out of a turnip.

The landlord and his attorney said their goodbyes and the landlord immediately called his wife to give her the news. The nightmare was over. It was going to be a great day!

Clandestine indoor marijuana grow operations are an epidemic and they cause extensive damage to the buildings they are carried out in. In the words of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in their report entitled Residential Grows in Colorado, the New Meth Houses, “Marijuana grows often cause extensive damage to the houses where they are maintained and are increasingly the causes of house fires, blown electrical transformers and environmental damage. Much like the ‘meth houses’ of the 1990s, many of these homes may ultimately be rendered uninhabitable.”

Larger (and the larger they are, the more property damage they cause) clandestine indoor marijuana grow operations are most often carried out in leased properties, including commercial spaces, residential homes and apartments. Who would want to cause that kind of damage to their own property?

Parts two and three of this article will discuss the following about clandestine indoor marijuana grow operations:

  • Why they are proliferating
  • The types of property damage and safety/health hazards they cause
  • How property insurance claims and property management professionals can recognize them (the telltale signs)
  • Recommended assessment methods and remediation measures

Make sure to keep an eye out for the continuation of this article series! Have any comments or would you like to submit content of your own? Email



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