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No grow op but Port Coquitlam home owner given $12k fine anyway

The owners of a Port Coquitlam home have been slapped with a $12,000 fine after receiving a controlled substance property declaration, despite the fact that there was no marijuana grow operation in the rental house. - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
The owners of a Port Coquitlam home have been slapped with a $12,000 fine after receiving a controlled substance property declaration, despite the fact that there was no marijuana grow operation in the rental house.
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

The owners of a Port Coquitlam home have been slapped with a $12,000 fine after receiving a controlled substance property declaration, despite the fact that there was no marijuana grow operation in the rental house.

PoCo council voted against reducing the charge after the Mary Hill Road homeowners appealed the decision, asking that the fee be waived. They stated in a letter to the city that the tenants who were renting the home when it was raided by police last winter were never charged with a criminal offence and there was no evidence of controlled substances being found on the property.

"The house was not a grow op and, to the best of our knowledge, there were no drugs found in the house," owners Robert, Christopher and Harvey Douglas stated in their appeal to the city. "We have asked the [Coquitlam] RCMP and the city to show us any evidence of proof but neither are willing to do so, stating privacy rules for the tenant."

The issue stems from an incident last winter when the Coquitlam RCMP's Prolific Target Team raided the home. Police say they found knives, bear spray, scales, the magazine for a Glock handgun and a small amount of drugs.

But according to a city staff report, it took Mounties 18 minutes to gain entry to the home, during which time investigators believe the suspects flushed drugs down the toilet. Empty baggies and white-powder residue were found on the floor of the washroom, the city document said.

There was also a note on the bathroom door written in jiffy marker that stated: "Do not use for shooting. Thanks. PS. You smash in here! You get smashed!"

Police did not lay any criminal charges in the incident but bylaw officers declared the home a controlled substance property and ordered that it not be occupied until remediation work was completed.

The city's bylaw prohibits the use of land and buildings for the production of drugs, noting that homes with grow operations are more likely to catch fire and pose significant safety risks to emergency crews and neighbouring property owners.

But language in the regulations also states that homes where the storage, trade or barter of drugs is taking place can also be hit with a controlled substance property declaration, a stipulation that caught at least one city councillor off guard.

"I have always thought that this was something to do with grow ops," said Coun. Dean Washington. "[The tenant] was never charged with an offence. He wasn't growing anything in his home. I am not sure how we can charge him the fee."

The $12,000 charge is in place in order for the city to recover its staffing costs related to inspections and remediation prior to allowing re-occupancy of the home. Bylaw services manager Dan Scoones said the amount is an average, noting that some controlled substances property declarations cost more while others are less. He did not have the exact figures for the home on Mary Hill Road, but estimated that the expense incurred by the city was slightly less than the average.

Councillors Mike Forrest and Michael Wright put forward an amendment to cut the fine in half but the motion failed. They argued that a home where only the sale of drugs was taking place would not require the same level of inspection and re-inspection as a property that housed a grow operation, where electrical problems and air quality concerns are often an issue.

PoCo Mayor Greg Moore said changing the fee levied against the homeowner at this point would set a precedent for all future appeals. He added that he is open to making changes to the bylaw but that those discussions should take place once the current process had concluded.

Coun. Darrell Penner concurred with Moore, noting that the issue before council was a reminder to all landlords that they are responsible for what occurs on their property.

"I don't want to live in a community where it is easy for drug dealers to operate," Penner said, later adding, "I am a landlord and we do extensive background checks… It's part of the due diligence."

But landlords may have a more difficult time keeping tabs on their tenants in cases where drugs are only being sold out of a home, rather than manufactured, said bylaw manager Scoones. He said disguising a grow op is difficult because it typically takes 90 days to produce a marijuana crop and a landlord is permitted to inspect their property with 24 hours' notice every 30 days. But in cases where drugs are only being sold out of a home, tenants have an easier time hiding their activities and removing any evidence prior to a a landlord's inspection, he said.

"The owner of this property — had they exercised their right [to an inspection] — would have had quite a difficult time assessing whether illegal activity was taking place," he said.

gmckenna@tricitynews.com

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