Legalized Marijuana & Landlords: A Hazy Issue - Property Vista

February 23, 2017

Legalized Marijuana & Landlords: A Hazy Issue

With the federal government’s intent to legalize recreational marijuana around the corner, a whole new set of concerns has been unleashed for multi-family building owners and managers. If legalized, it’s likely to be up to the provinces and municipalities to determine their approach, and landlords could find themselves in a bit of a legal haze.

At present, cannabis is a controlled substance under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the production, possession and distribution of marijuana is illegal, with the exception of medicinal uses. However, a recent Forum Research survey found that 31% of adult Canadians would use marijuana if it were legalized, which could mean more people lighting up at home.

Concerned Landlords

If the legislation passes, multi-family owners and managers must give careful consideration to impact of legalization on other non-smoking residents. Recently, the Association des propriétaires d’appartements du grand Montréal (APAGM) released a statement that encouraged landlords to add a new clause to their leases: one that prohibits them from smoking pot in their unit. The group of approximately 400 concerned landlords bolstered their argument by citing article 1854 of the Civil Code of Quebec, which stipulates landlords must provide their renters with a peaceful living environment.

The press release noted that the smell of cigarette smoke in apartment buildings is already a problem for owners, and cannabis legalization would only add fuel to the fire. The strong smell of smoke (cigarette or otherwise) in a building or an apartment can negatively impact a resident’s quality of life as well as the ability to lease.

If cannabis becomes legal, landlords worry that there will be no way to stop the pungent smell, or people growing it at home. While some residents may have medical reasons for growing or smoking pot, for others it will be purely a recreational activity. If there is an existing clause prohibiting smoking in the unit, it will be up to the landlords to sort through who has the legal right and who doesn’t.

Additional Risk

Of course, there is also the issue of risk. South of the border, Colorado, one of the states at the forefront of legalization of recreational marijuana, saw an unsettling spike in apartment fires caused by resident attempting to extract cannabis oil, often used in making edible marijuana products. Even without any fires, there is the increased risk of mould and water damage.

Landlords can ensure that there is a no-smoking clause in their new leases, however, this will not cover existing tenants who signed prior to the new clause. These existing tenants are “grandfathered” by the rules of their previous lease, unless they move to a new unit within the building, in which case, the new clause would apply.

And, at the end of the day, many landlords wonder just how enforceable non-smoking clauses are in reality.

Unfortunately, at this time there is no clear policy on the issue or how to protect both landlords and residents.

So what’s a landlord or property management company to do? What are your thoughts?

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Jack Beaton Sterling Karamar, Property Management
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