Despite marijuana legalization, renters may still be at risk in Virginia

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Even though recreational marijuana is legal in Virginia, renters may still be at risk. 

Nearly one month after the new policy took effect, landlords say it’s business as usual. 

However, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society Litigation Director Martin Wegbreit suspects there will be issues at some point.

“I think it is virtually inevitable,” Wegbreit said. 

The law generally allows adults 21 and older to have up to an ounce of marijuana in public but it continues to ban public use. 

Virginians can legally use marijuana and grow a limited number of plants in private.

However, landlords can continue to enforce their own rules, including no-smoking policies. 

Rick Jones is the Vice Chairman of Management Services Corporation, which oversees about 4,000 units across the Commonwealth. 

“We really don’t have a grey area. It’s quite simple,” Jones said. “If your lease says you are not allowed to smoke in your apartment, it doesn’t make any difference what you smoke.” 

Wegbreit said that doesn’t necessarily mean tenants won’t be able to take advantage of marijuana legalization in other ways.

“If the lease specifically bans smoking, then the court would enforce such a lease provision but that doesn’t necessarily allow the landlord to evict for simple possession and as we know marijuana can be ingested in a number of ways, including edibles,” Wegbreit said.

Virginia’s new law also allows each adult household to grow up to four marijuana plants–indoors or outdoors–as long as they are properly labelled, out of public view and out of reach of children. 

Jones suspects this would generally be allowed in apartment communities but he advises tenants to check with their landlord first. 

“You can probably have a pot plant on the balcony because that is legal,” Jones said. 

Above all, Jones says tenants should be mindful of their neighbors, especially when it comes to the smell. He expects most enforcement will follow complaints.

At first, he says a tenant would likely get a violation notice, though repeat offenders may have their leases terminated.

“All landlords are different in the level to which they do or do not enforce their regulations,” Jones said. “I think most professional landlords enforce all of their rules and regulations.”  

Further complicating matters is the fact that marijuana prohibition continues at the federal level. 

Virginia Apartment Management Association CEO Patrick McCloud said many leases have language banning illegal substances, which could include marijuana depending on how it’s written. 

McCloud suspects this could be an issue with subsidized housing overseen by the federal government.

“It is still an area that worries property owners and I think everyone would just like to see some consistency so that we don’t have to worry about the difference between federal and state law,” McCloud said. “We hope the government will take care of that.” 

Meanwhile, Jones said another notable shift following marijuana legalization is underway.

“All of the discussion regarding the new law has had essentially nothing to do with residents and everything to do with employees,” Jones said. 

Previously, he said his company would drug test all new applicants. Now they have stopped testing for marijuana altogether, a growing trend across the state. 

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