'Wilfully blind' landlord forfeits 2 grow-op homes
Published Thursday, February 17, 2011 8:17PM PST
A B.C. judge has approved the seizure of two East Vancouver properties worth nearly $1 million, even though the homes' owner didn't know about the marijuana grow operations inside.
Police discovered sophisticated grow operations in three neighbouring Boundary Road properties during searches in May 2008. In all, investigators uncovered 2,254 pot plants estimated to be worth between $282,000 and $507,000.
All three homes were owned by longshoreman Sarban Singh Rai, but he rented them each to tenants he did not know. He argued in court that he had absolutely no knowledge of the grow operations; he was never charged with a crime in connection to the drugs and was never even questioned by police.
But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Arne Silverman approved the forfeiture of two of the homes as proceeds of crime on Wednesday, ruling that Rai was "wilfully blind" to what was going on at his properties.
"The defendant's wilful blindness is at the extreme end. It is inexplicable and incomprehensible," Silverman wrote.
"If ever there was wilful blindness amounting to bad faith, this was it."
In fact, Rai had received notice from the city in the past that three other homes he owned were hosting grow-ops. In the most recent case, he didn't even have a signed agreement with his tenants and only charged them $800 per month in rent, a bargain for a fully detached home in Vancouver.
"The defendant was an experienced landlord who knew the proper and sensible steps that needed to be taken when renting to tenants. His actions and inactions cannot be attributed to naivety or inexperience," Silverman wrote.
The judge also pointed out that the three homes were "uninhabitable" and the modifications made to support the grow-ops were so substantial that any visitor could have guessed what was going on inside.
"It would have also been impossible, if the defendant had ever attended at any of the subject properties, to miss that all three houses were unoccupied," Silverman wrote.
Rai dealt exclusively with the tenants through his rental manger Chi Lan Ho Leung, also known as Gigi, further proof that he was wilfully ignorant of what was going on in the homes, Silverman said.
"The defendant deliberately chose to distance himself from the subject properties and the tenants by using Gigi as an intermediary, and by avoiding the acquisition of any personal knowledge about the tenants," the judge wrote.
The two forfeited homes at 5053 and 5045 Boundary Road were assessed at values of $569,900 and $427,300 in 2008.
The judge allowed Rai to keep the third home at 5035 Boundary Road, ruling that full forfeiture is "clearly not in the interests of justice" because Rai had only gained about $24,000 in profit by renting the three properties.