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Virginia Tenants Still At Risk, Even Under Legalization

So, now that marijuana is legal in Virginia, why do renters still risk homelessness for using it?

Toscano Law Group

Cannabis is legal for adults now in Virginia. But renters can still risk homelessness, because landlords can set their own tenant rules.

Nearly one month after marijuana legalization took effect, many landlords say it’s business as usual. But 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, reports WRIC.

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

Beware Weed-Phobic Landlords

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.” 

Getting Around It

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. 

Each adult household can legally grow up to four Cannabis plants — indoors or outdoors — as long as they are properly labelled, out of public view and out of reach of children. 

Jones suspects such legal growing 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. 

Be Mindful Of Your Neighbors

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.” 

That Pesky Federal Law

Further complicating matters is the fact that Cannabis prohibition continues at the federal level — for now, at least.

Virginia Apartment Management Association CEO Patrick McCloud said many leases ban “illegal substances.”

Depending upon how the lease is written, that ban could include Cannabis.

McCloud believes this could be an issue with subsidized housing supervised 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. We hope the government will take care of that,” McCloud said.

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