Sunbury drug raids prompt rental warning

Landlords are being encouraged to check carefully before entering into private tenancy arrangements after a series of drug raids on rented houses in Sunbury.

Raids on properties in Phillip Drive, Glastonbury Drive and Langport Crescent have turned up 486 cannabis plants since July.

The most recent warrant was executed at a Langport Crescent house on August 26 when 219 cannabis plants were seized.

Police and real estate agents warned that many people involved in cannabis or crystal methamphetamine production and trafficking were circumventing reference checks by providing false names or using the private market.

Hume police’s Inspector Lisa Hardeman said landlords risked significant damage to their investments, with walls in crop houses often removed and electricity tampered with.

‘‘It’s really important, if you are renting a house out, that you do really good background checks or go through an agency that will do all those checks for you,’’ she said. ‘‘These people are in a business. They will sign up under different names or use false identification.’’

A Sunbury real estate agent, who did not want to be named, said he had recently been contacted by a landlord who had been shafted by tenants who found him online.

‘‘They paid the bond and the first month’s rent, but he received nothing after that. He decided to list it with us, but when we went around to inspect it he opened the door and literally every wall had been removed. Chains had been installed on the ceiling for fluorescent lights. The place was an absolute mess.’’

Another Sunbury agent, also unwilling to be named, said tenants involved in drug trafficking or production often appeared legitimate, paying their rent months in advance.

‘‘People have got to be really careful,’’ the agent said. ‘‘They may say they’re wanting a house for a Mr and Mrs with a couple of kids, but then they drag in someone else to sit on a crop for them.’’

Both agents said crooks were often targeting houses in newer estates.

Inspector Hardeman urged neighbours who noticed suspicious behaviour to contact police.

Tell-tale signs of crop houses include windows blacked out, blinds permanently down and increased daytime foot and car traffic.