It was supposed to be a relaxing summer holiday on the Gold Coast – but family man Dieter Winkler, his wife and their five children were shocked to discover that the Burleigh Heads cottage they had rented was a drug den.
The family were preparing to enjoy a barbecue when 10 armed police officers smashed down the door and raided the property. After being interrogated for five hours and having their possessions ‘ramsacked,’ the Winklers were stunned to discover the secret behind a locked room – which a female owner had told them was ‘off-limits’ due to an electrical fault.
The room, which was located next to the bedroom shared by his five children – housed eight cannabis plants in an extensive hydroponic set up. Authorities described the room as a ‘fire waiting to happen’ due to dodgy electrical wiring which fed lights 24 hours a day.
According to Mr Winkler, police claimed to be unaware that the property was being rented out to holidaymakers; which raises questions about the quality of intelligence checking, investigation and surveillance techniques.
Mr Winkler said his family were treated like criminals, with his children – the youngest aged 9 – and 72-year-old mother, witnessing the terrifying raid.
Police have used the incident to highlight the risks of renting properties from unknown owners, with a police spokesperson stating that ‘people need to understand that you don’t know who the homeowner is, or if you’re renting a room who you could be staying with.’
The holiday rental company AirBnB agreed to reimburse the Winklers the $1800 paid for rental– as well as $2,600 spent to secure alternative last minute accommodation elsewhere.
But the experience ruined the family’s first get together in two years, with Mr Winkler describing it as ‘the worst holiday’ and vowing to never use Airbnb again.
Homeowners Fall Victim to Drug Cultivating Tenants
On the flip side, a Victorian man found his investment property trashed and abandoned by drug cultivators late last year.
29-year-old Trent Lister purchased the Geelong property with his mother and partner, but upon returning to conduct a routine inspection in August, discovered that the previous tenants had rewired electrical circuits, removed cupboards and fixtures, and cut holes in walls, floors and the roof. Doors had been ripped out to make way for plants, and water had been redirected around the house.
The occupants had then absconded, leaving Mr Lister to pay thousands of dollars for the damage cause. He says that his family may face bankruptcy due to the high cost of repairs.
Mr Lister says that he conducted all necessary background checks prior to renting the property – he had met with the tenants, obtained copies of their driver licences and details of their previous rental history. But the licences and rental history turned out to be false.
While taking taken DNA samples from the house, police advised Mr Lister that they are unlikely to catch the culprits.
Knowing the Law
Residents and homeowners who use property to produce, supply or cultivate commercial quantities of illicit drugs can face heavy penalties under the law.
Properties used to manufacture or cultivate drugs fall within the definition of ‘drug premises’ under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985.
Apart from the presence of drugs, a court can look at the following factors when deciding whether a particular property is a ‘drug premises’:
- The fact that a police officer who was authorised to enter the premises was prevented or obstructed from doing so;
- Evidence of doors being fitted with bolts, bars, chains or other devices to obstruct entry;
- Evidence of a person acting as a lookout to warn persons of police officers or other persons;
- Evidence of syringes or other devices used for the supply, manufacture or use of a prohibited drug;
- Evidence of unlawful firearms or prohibited weapons;
- Evidence of large amounts of money that cannot be accounted for by the owner or occupier;
- Evidence of persons on the premises being affected by drugs;
- Evidence of drug cultivation equipment such as high powered lights, fluorescent lights, light units and growing chambers;
- Fans and vents installed in unusual spots;
- Evidence of high electricity consumption;
- Evidence that electricity is being sourced from an illegal source;\Evidence of prohibited plants or seeds being found on the premises.
Property owners who knowingly allow another to use their property as ‘drug premises’ face a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500 under section 36Y of the Act. For a second or subsequent offence, the penalty increases to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $55,000.
Organising, conducting or assisting with the organisation of drug premises is an offence which carries the same penalties. A person can be found guilty of this offence there is sufficient evidence to show that they acted as a lookout, guard, or door attendant at the premises.
Even simply entering or being on premises which you know are being used as drug premises can result in these heavy penalties, unless you are able to establish that you were on, or entering or leaving the premises, for a lawful purpose or with a lawful excuse.