A Vancouver security company says it’s seeing a surge of business from landlords who want to use their drug dogs to sniff out evidence of grow-ops and drug labs before they turn into costly repairs.

But others are concerned about the sudden spike in the practice, saying it’s “heavy-handed” and a privacy red flag that achieves goals that could be done by regularly checking suites.

Canadian K9 Group’s Margrett Donley says her company has seen a 20 per cent increase in calls for her 14 dogs, which scour common areas for any trace of narcotics.

“The problem is the trafficking and manufacturing – when there’s a large amount concentrated in one area, this is what the dogs will locate,” Donley said.

“We had one company that had to deal with a $60,000 cleanup with a grow-op on the fourth floor. They hired us and in 10 years they haven’t had the problem again,” she said.

The company showed off one dog, a six-year-old black lab named Mabel, as she scoured the common area in one West End apartment building.

Mabel didn’t find anything there, but was quick to detect a decoy target, sitting down immediately, pointing her nose at the source of the smell, and staying put.

“She will do a sit alert, just sit still and stare,” said Mabel’s handler, Laureen Choi. She said the dog, which often is used to detect drugs in cruise ship luggage, has been brought to apartments and condos more recently.

“We have more stratas coming saying we don’t want this kind of stuff in our area,” Choi said.

But David Hutniak, CEO of landlord advocacy group Landlord BC, says he finds the practice a privacy “red flag.”

“What we want to see is a respectful relationship with the customer, which is the tenant. To me, that seems so heavy-handed and I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.

Hutniak said the same goals could be achieved if landlords just knew their tenants and checked on the suites regularly. He represents owners of purpose-built rental properties and condos that are in the rental market, whose owners may be using the property as an investment and may not be as familiar with best practices in the industry, he said.

Vancouver Police searched a condo unit in Olympic Village earlier this week, arresting one person on a drug search. Officers bashed in the door of the unit to get in and neighbours speculated the repairs would be costly.

But the presence of drugs doesn’t necessarily mean crime: the use of medical marijuana could be detected by the dogs, as could heroin, which could mean a health risk to the tenant in a province where some four people a day die from overdoses, many from contaminated drugs.

And if the landlords were hoping to gather evidence for the police, they might be out of luck – Canada’s Supreme Court has held that police need to have reasonable suspicion already before deploying a dog, and a routine search wouldn’t be allowed.

Canadian K9 Group says they just detect the drug – they don’t tell landlords what to do when they find it.