Prop 215 states that marijuana use and cultivation are legal in California, but under federal law, the Drug Enforcement Agency still deems it illegal. What does this mean for homeowners? Why NOT allow tenants to turn rental properties into residential pot farms?
First and foremost, a landlord’s property may be seized by the government under civil asset forfeitures statutes. This means the government doesn’t have to file a charge or obtain a criminal conviction. Instead, all they have to show is probable cause of the property’s involvement in a crime. Given that marijuana use and cultivation is a federal crime, if your property has all of the attributes of a grow house, “probable cause” is easy to prove.
Recently, the federal government has intensified efforts to impact California’s pot industry by going after not only growers themselves, but also the people who do business with them: landowners and homeowners. In a report by KQED, William Panzer, the Oakland attorney who co-authored Prop 215, stated, “It’s an effective strategy because they’re basically saying to landlords, ‘If you don’t do this [evict the growers], then you lose your property, and we could also come after you criminally.’”
According to the Campaign Against Marijuana Production, the number of pot plants seized this year has dropped, because growers are now switching from growing on public land to private land and homes. In fact Sonoma County was ranked 11th in pot seizures, resulting in the confiscation of 65,545 plants in 2011.
When we get down to the technicalities of Prop 215, its main purpose is to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to cultivate, obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes, NOT TO ALLOW GROWING POT IN RENTAL PROPERTIES.
If a home owner is having issues with a potential or current renter, here are some court cases which clearly explain why a property owner does not have to allow pot growing, despite the presumed permission granted by Prop 215:
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): An owner is not required to allow the growing, smoking and/or possession of medical marijuana in a residential rental property as a “reasonable accommodation” for a disabled person.
- Assenberg v. Anacortes Housing Authority: The court held that the housing authority had no duty to accommodate an illegal drug user because “reasonable accommodations do not include requiring [the housing authority] to tolerate illegal drug use or risk losing HUD funding for doing so.”
- Parthenia v. Today’s Healthcare: The Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the landlord could evict because federal law preempts state law.
In addition to the legal implications that can result if a landlord’s property becomes a residential pot farm, there is also a major risk of physical damage to the home. Essentially, tenants are cultivating an agricultural crop. In order for ANY crop to grow, they all need the same energy resources, whether we’re talking about corn, cannabis or chrysanthemums.
What property management firms are frequently seeing is high intensity lights being screwed into ceilings, with extension cords and wiring configurations that can easily overpower the home’s electrical system. In some cases, pot growers bypass the main breaker panel, to avoid utility charges and to avoid detection. Tampering with or overloading a residence’s limited electrical system is an clear and evident fire hazard.
Also, since plants need water, indoor irrigation systems are being installed. There is the possibility of damage if any portion of the irrigation system bursts, flooding some or all of the residence. As insidious is the long-term effect, even if there is not a significant plumbing breach. Imagine a greenhouse, with its ambient moisture level. Residences, appointed with drywall, carpets and curtains, are simply not equipped to tolerate such high humidity levels.
Some residences that have been converted to indoor pot farms make no pretense of residential use – there are no actual residents to call the property “home.” Instead, the “farmers” check in periodically as their plants mature. Lacking direct oversight, fire, flood or structural damage can happen quickly, with no one to prevent the resulting catastrophic loss.
In Santa Rosa, according to an ABC report, police raided one home where the backyard had been converted to a large grow operation with extensive fencing, irrigation and growing equipment. Not only was the yard converted, but the garage was as well; there they discovered built-in industrial fans, filters and two rows of floor-to-ceiling drying racks.
Often times, tenants that turn your home into a grow room will rewire electrical boxes, cut vent holes in floors and ceilings, alter existing HVAC systems, use showers to provide irrigation, and line rooms with plastic using staples and screws, resulting in damage to your walls, floors and doors.
Lastly, the insurance industry has taken measures to limit their own exposure to losses resulting from residential pot farms. Mold exclusions have been a standard policy provision for years. Newer provisions limit payouts that result from any type of agricultural activity. While the verbiage is designed to be somewhat generic, it was instituted as a direct response to the threat posed by Prop 215, similar state laws, and residential pot farms.
According to police authorities, insurance professionals, and property management companies, your best bet as a property owner is to NEVER allow tenants to grow marijuana on your premises. Permitting marijuana cultivation could not only put you at legal risk, but will compromise the integrity of your home, exposing you to incalculable expense and liability. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at DeDe’s Rentals. We will be happy to help you.