Renting & Cannabis
With the looming legalization housing associations, condo boards and landlords across Canada are scrambling to find ways to keep cannabis banned on their properties. This is causing friction with tenants who consume recreationally and medically as they seek new accommodations. Should they disclose their usage prior to renting? Or risk being evicted in the extreme cases due to arbitrary rules being imposed on them after they secure a rental?
Do Landlords Hate Cannabis?
In the past landlords and rental agencies have used illegal drug use as a valid reason to evict or deny rentals to tenants. This illegal drug was usually cannabis, as it is easily detectable, had a pungent odor, easily available and if your new potential tenant was showing up to view apartments reeking of it usually someone who you would not want to be around your kids and therefore someone you might be resistant to rent your $300,000 condo to. This was an easy way for them to deny and “weed out” potential problem candidates. This was simply a tool for them to use in their war against crappy tenants.
Landlords do not necessarily dislike cannabis use, they dislike bad tenants. For many years these two things were attached at the hip in many people’s eyes. The classic “dirty stoner that can’t hold a job type”.
Additionally, some people legitimately dislike the smell of cannabis and if you have one person annoying multiple other tenants with their odor causing habit, you will receive complaints and eventually people may choose to vacate your property for one that does not reek of reefer. This is a loss of rentals and I suspect if you are showing a condo and the whole hallway smells of marijuana, many people will be turned off from the possibility of the rental.
We choose to think of it as if you microwave fish at work. Technically you are not doing anything wrong, but you are still causing discomfort to people around you, some will not mind while others will complain to the boss about your fishy habits. This will then cause the company to create policies that prevent you from enjoying your fish. Currently this is happening with rental policies.
Valid Concerns About Cannabis Cultivation
All disagreements between groups have valid points on each side. With landlords being concerned about cultivation, they may have a strong point and two legs to stand on. Cannabis cultivation has caused fires and other property damage in the past. However, this like everything else is usually caused by someone doing something they shouldn’t be.
Many fires are caused by bad electrical wiring this could be either from the building’s aged wiring or from the cultivator attempting to rewire and steal power from neighbours to avoid detection by authorities and/or an increased electrical bill.
Fire is not the only danger, with multiple people in a condo building this could result in insect infestations, a higher risk of break ins and flooding of apartments from broken hydroponics. Not including a possible significant increased power bill, if the power is included in the rent.
Like guns when handled correctly and professionally cultivation is reasonably safe, but when it is done unprofessionally it can cause serious threats to the building and the other people living there. And in this new era of massive row houses, condos and small lots with tightly packed housing in urban areas a fire can spread quickly, as we saw in Fort McMurray 2016.
The question remains, should landlords, associations and condo boards be allowed to deny people the opportunity to grow their own marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes?
Medicinal Cannabis Cultivation
Should landlords and associations be allowed to ban cultivation for medical purposes in their rental properties? If they have a valid reason, such as renting a condo or apartment which has a perceived and possible increased risk if fire breaks out, this could be allowed.
Is the possible risk of damage to other people and their property worth denying the ability to a cancer patient to grow their own cannabis, which costs significantly less than $300 for 28 grams. This $300 may not seem like a lot to some people, however if you are a cancer patient in treatment you are likely not just relying on your medicinal cannabis to save you and the other costs are significant, so the $100 increase in power and up front cultivation costs could be saving this person $500 or more a month, which could pay the grocery bill or their portion of the rent as they go through treatment and may not be able to work.
These are the issues from both sides and both have valid points, which makes the debate much more difficult.
Cannabis Across Canada and Rental Markets
Across Canada it is clear to see that rental markets are significantly different in each province and territory as well as metro to rural, and in between.
East Coast and Rural Markets
The East coast and rural rental markets are much more tenant friendly and can be a struggle for landlords. The vacancy rates are higher than the metropolitan areas and the west. This could impose as significant amount of difficulty for landlords if they start imposing policies about cannabis, they would be eliminating potential tenants from an already lower demand pool of candidates. It is likely that the rules for cannabis will be more relaxed in these areas.
Additionally in these types of markets you will usually be renting a larger space and not be as closely sardine packed as you are within cities and high demand markets. This would reduce the annoyance to your neighbours regarding the odor caused by the use and cultivation.
West Coast, Central Canada and Higher Demand Markets
Calgary in 2012 prior to the major oil and gas crash had landlords running out of control. Having experienced this personally many landlords demanded illegal deposits (two or sometimes three months of rent). When confronted with the fact that this was against the tenancy act, they would simply say the place is no longer for rent and ask you to leave then rent it to the next person who walked in desperate for a place to the point of giving up their rights under the act. These were outliers, however that can give you a picture of how much power a landlord can have over possible tenants in a no or low vacancy market.
Within these low vacancy markets, major metropolitan centres and high value neighbourhoods, policies regarding cannabis will likely be stricter than anywhere else in Canada and could possibly violate some people’s rights. Such as telling a medical user they are unable to consume their prescribed medication through smoking or vaporizing within a certain area of the property. This could force some to violate these rules or walkout on icy walkways to comply with policies. Oils and edibles are always an option to reduce the odor, but these do not work for everyone as they are processed through the liver and take a fair amount of time, in a pain perspective, to activate.
Possible reasons why these areas may be significantly more strict include;
- The viewpoint of stoners don’t have money to rent in these nicer area, thus this type of policy will stop them from applying to begin with, essentially prescreening them;
- The community may not want “those types of people” in their neighbourhoods as they may not be family friendly;
- They believe that bringing a “criminal element” into the neighbourhood will suddenly have a drug/party house with the authorities raiding constantly causing a threat to those already living there;
- They simply want strict rules in order to enforce them when someone they don’t like speaks out against them or their policies, essentially just another way to gain leverage or control over the community members by a select few;
- Allowing cannabis use openly would result in the loss of their own property value.
Some of these reasons have been expressed directly to me by multiple people in Calgary, it will take a significant amount of time for these people to either come around or to have policies change to reflect what cannabis really is. Until then it is best to try and be discreet about your usage in these areas.
Yes, you could protest and make waves on how unfair it is. Bad news, they don’t care. Property owners and companies care about ensuring the rent is being paid. They will only change when there is an impact to their profits or cash flows, for this to happen there cannot be 20 people standing behind you waiting for them to kick you out. The change will come when there is only 2-5 people standing behind you and they all have small yappy dogs and bad credit checks.
What is your Cannabis Rental Policy – A Landlord’s Perspective
An interview with a long time Calgary landlord on October 5th, 2018.
What is your cannabis rental policy was asked to a landlord that has several properties throughout the city of Calgary and has been a landlord in the city for over 15 years.
His immediate response was that all his properties are non-smoking regardless of what it is. A valid policy and the main reason why he stated was due to the reduction in property value and also a reduction in rental income due to allowing smoking inside the building.
Are they allowed to smoke on the property or on their balcony?
“Yes, I don’t give a fuck, as long as it is not inside and I don’t have to clean up after them” was his response. It was assumed he was talking about cigarette butts with regards to the cleaning up aspect.
What about medical use of cannabis?
Paused silence and the wheels started turning in his head showing he had not come across this issue as of yet.
After consideration he stated, to the effect of, if there is a legitimate medical condition that it would be allowed with the stipulation that they need to be considerate of their neighbours.
What about growing (cultivation)?
Another pause and open mouth showed that he had not even considered this and would be acting on this soon.
He was not able to state any specific framework for a policy, but was generally against the idea of growing within his rental properties. Again when asked about medical he was hesitant to say no. This shows that landlords, assuming they are professional in their nature, understand that the legitimate medical usage is a concern they need to tread lightly on.
Are any of these policies in your current rental agreements? Will they be added once it is legalized?
No smoking is part of the policy, but not the other things was a general response. But it was clear that he now has plans to incorporate some of these policies into his renewal agreements.
While this particular landlord may have a conservative view on cannabis, he understands that his position as a landlord is not to impose his beliefs or opinions on his tenants, but it is to ensure that his property retains its value. Most good landlords have this same viewpoint and will not make it personal.
A Reasonable Compromise
Having written all this and investigated this issue from both sides, a reasonable policy compromise could be along the lines of;
- Could follow the same rules as tobacco consumption, as smoking inside the building would affect the property value and other tenants;
- Consumption could be allowed within the building if steps are taken to reduce or eliminate the cannabis odor;
- Consumption could be allowed on the property if steps are taken to reduce the odor and to ensure that it is not in areas such as a community park or playground where children are commonly found
- Allowing cultivation with inspections by the landlords or housing associations to ensure a proper operation is being maintained and safety is reasonably ensured.
- Disallowing cultivation in condos and row houses could be a reasonable response
- Valid medical conditions, not just having a medical card for headaches, could override any policies involving this. Significant discussion on when this will be going to court is already being raised.
These policies will, likely, be the ones that result in tenants having conflicts with prospective landlords and may lead to legal challenges for the landlord:
- No Cannabis Under Any Circumstance
- Due to this being so absolute this will naturally result in conflicts and likely would be overturned within the courts
- No Cannabis, but Tobacco is allowed
- An unlikely scenario, but allowing one legal substance but not another similar legal substance is just silly and asking for conflict.
- Unclear Policies & Selective Enforcement
- Many times policies are made to be vague to allow interpretation by those in power to selectively enforce these policies
This is a cause of many conflicts, if you impose the rules on one person and not another without a reasonable justification for the discrepancy you will have your judgement brought into question
The Professional’s Approach
As a professional who uses cannabis I have found the best approach, even in a low vacancy and highly conservative city like Calgary, is being professional, upfront and honest while addressing the concerns of the landlords or association.
Important Things to Remember:
- Do not show up high, if you do this it is just unprofessional, and you deserve being told no. Imagine if you showed up drunk or without a shower after a workout.
- Be honest, but confident about the usage. If you shy away when you inform them of your cannabis consumption, they will think you are being deceitful or hiding something else. If you make it a simple statement of fact, which it is, they will treat it differently as it does not give them pause to worry.
- If you have a medical card at this point, it should be brought up in the conversation as this will sometimes sway their opinion over just recreational use or there may already be exemptions in the policy.
- If you attempt to use cannabis discreetly, either smoking outside, using a Smoke Buddy or through other means it is always good to drop it in here.
- Remind them who they are dealing with. Assuming you hold a job of some difficulty (sorry low level grunts), this will help them keep things into perspective. This person is a lawyer who smokes cannabis, do I want to deny him a rental over a person who may not be as financially stable? This is the thought that should be going through their head. (I try to make this a joke to avoid coming off as a pompous ass)
- After informing them you consume cannabis attempt to judge their reaction, did they suddenly stop trying to “sell you” on the rental? Did they just all the sudden remember certain aspects of the place that maybe problematic for you? This may indicate that they will just dislike the usage and badger you about it once you move in.
What a standard conversation with a prospective landlord or company regarding cannabis use might look like after viewing the property, no sense doing it before;
“Did you have any questions about the place?”
“Yes. With the upcoming/recent legalization of cannabis, what are your policies regarding cannabis? Are your tenants allowed to smoke it in the building? How are you/your company addressing this?
[Wait for a response as they do not know yet if you’re concerned about your use or other’s usage affecting you, but this doesn’t let them “change the policy” after the fact]
I consume cannabis on a regular basis for recreation/medical/both purposes. I personally do not smoke indoors, and I do use odor reducing products to be discreet and keep the neighbours off my back.
I mean I have been an accountant for a while and do not need everyone knowing about my evil deeds. (ha ha ha)”
I recently had to find a new place to rent in 3 days in Calgary. This was close to verbatim of what I said to all of them. Of the dozen places I viewed, 3 of them did not make it to the point of asking them about policies, of the remaining 9, 1 crinkled their nose at me and said it is against their policy and lost interest. The rest were upfront with me that they either did not know, but if it was for medical purposes it should be fine, or that a medical card might be required. I had two that even said I was the first to bring it up and thanked me for being so direct, they also did not have an issue with it with my outdoor/odor reducing approach. This saved me a lot of trouble in general and I had a significant amount of interesting conversations following these inquiries.
We hope this article has helped you in some form or another.