Landlords’ growing concern |

Landlords’ growing concern

William Ferchland

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune file / Officer Brian McGuckin uproots one of 56 marijuana plants growing in the loft of a home on Walkup Road in April 2003.

South Lake Tahoe’s demographics and climate provide the two best reasons to grow marijuana indoors.

Homes are rented to young adults wanting to live in Tahoe for sun and snow while frigid air and rough soil don’t bode well for the illegal crop.

Some of those renters, like Jesse Brown and Justin Oswald, two roommates accused of having 15 pounds of marijuana in a Nadowa Street home, constitute a homeowners nightmare of not only illegal activity occurring in an investment property, but subsequent damage that makes a fraternity house look homey.

Most say that reference and background checks can weed out suspicious prospective tenants.

But such safeguards won’t leave out those intent on growing buds to fund a financial boost or support an everlasting high in a property they have no ties to.

A study released last month by Strategic Marketing Group stated roughly 70 percent of South Lake Tahoe area homes are owned by people who do not use the homes as a primary residence. They either constitute investors or vacation home owners, the report stated.

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Early Tuesday two brothers, Alex and Levi Neill, were arrested on suspicion of growing 88 plants in the master bedroom of a house on the 3300 block of South Upper Truckee Road.

The owner of the house could not be reached for comment. But what the owner might discover is damage to his floors and walls from the high moisture content, possible heat damage from the lighting and holes through the wall for ventilation.

Mike Atwell, a deputy district attorney for El Dorado County who handles marijuana cases, estimated he receives indoor marijuana grow cases once a month.

If owners let him know of the damage, Atwell will include the cost of repairs as restitution. The other way to address such damages if the repairs are very costly, Atwell said, is to file a felony vandalism charge.

Moisture without ventilation can also cause mold infestation. Kirk Jameson, a marketer with the Environmental Sampling Professionals, said water can breed four toxic molds, the most common being Stachybotrys.

“I’m sure with marijuana growth they’re not going to have windows open,” Jameson said, alluding to the lack of ventilation.

Insurance agents said there are ways homeowners can protect themselves from such damages, such as identifying the rental house as just that in the policy and determining dates to stop by for visits.

Insurance agent Dick Horn, who has 22 years in the business, said one home he represented on the West Slope was found to have an indoor marijuana grow.

The homeowner paid three different deductibles to fix the house, he said.

“There’s a lot of different areas where someone can use the house for something instead of living,” Horn said. “It’s hard to protect yourself other than get good, quality people (to rent).”