Call for Action Investigation: Illegal Pot Grows At Rental Properties

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It's happening in our local neighborhoods and could even be taking place in the home next door to yours — marijuana being grown illegally in rental properties throughout Colorado.

Authorities are raiding homes where huge numbers of marijuana plants are being grown illegally and hauling off those accused of cultivating the crop.

Jon Didleaux says he never knew the state legalizing recreational pot would impact him, until his tenant was caught with close to 56 pounds of marijuana.

The worst part: Jon had spent months painstakingly fixing up the 1,800-square-foot home in Village Seven, only to see it almost destroyed.

His tenant, 34-year-old Alfredo Alvarez, pleaded guilty to possessing the pot with plans to sell it. The end result: major structural changes to Jon's property.

“They had tapped into the plumbing so they could set up an irrigation system...they ripped out all the carpet in the basement...then they put an air conditioner in the backyard and put a separate furnace in and tapped into all that," Didleaux said.

Colorado Springs police said it's one of the most dangerous illegal grow houses they've ever seen, with part of the staircase removed and a trench dug from the yard to a nearby power pole.

“They were bypassing the grid and they were powering their whole operation at the taxpayers' expense," Didleaux said.

Springs police estimate Alvarez stole up to $8,000 in electricity in about five months.

“It was just a big letdown because I thought that I got such a nice family in there and everything was just going to go smooth."

Didleaux said he’s lucky. His insurance company paid about $20,000 and covered all the damage to the property. He’s now asking his property manager to address the lease.

In doing this story, 11 News talked to DEA agents, attorneys, as well as real estate experts. They recommend specific language in the lease stating no agriculture can be grown on the property. Also, that inspections be allowed at least two to four times a year.

Real estate broker Victoria Baker manages property for a number of clients.

“There's no notice," Baker said. "You go in and that, frankly, is in my leases, and frankly it does scare some people, so they're going to be good."

Baker recommends all rental property owners take precautions to meet the pot legalization challenges. She says her leases, which used to be four pages are now more than 20 pages long. She said she makes it crystal clear to all potential tenants they're not allowed to use medicinal or recreational marijuana, nor can they grow it.

"People know with reading my leases. They know what they can and can't do. There is no ifs, ands or buts," Baker said.

Just how many of these illegal grow houses are there? Police estimate about 500 homes throughout El Paso County and Colorado Springs. Officials say they don't even have time to mess with growers who have 20 plants or less.

In Pueblo County in the last seven weeks, sheriff's deputies have arrested 23 people at 16 different illegal grow houses, seizing 4,800 pot plants. I'm told deputies raided one home after the suspects blew a transformer, sparking a grass fire.

And while transformer overloads can be caused by other things, Colorado Springs Utilities say there's been a 400 percent increase in them from 2014 to 2015.

So where are these illegal growers coming from? Drug enforcement agents say most are from the East Coast, places like New York, the Carolinas and Florida. They reportedly are able to make double to triple the amount of money by growing it here and selling it there.

Because illegal grow houses are so dangerous, Colorado Springs City Council members are considering changing the city ordinance. The new measure would only allow a total of 12 plants to be grown in a home, no matter how many people live there.

Denver, Pueblo and other Colorado cities have passed similar regulations. The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance next on May 10.