It is now lawful for D.C. residents over the age of 21 to recreationally use and grow marijuana in their private residences, but DC landlords may still prohibit their tenants from such use and growth on their rental properties. As of Thursday, February 26, 2015, the District of Columbia joined Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, and legalized recreational marijuana. While marijuana use in D.C. was previously limited to those with official medical marijuana cards, all residents of and visitors to the District can possess a limited amount of marijuana for the purpose of use in their homes and can grow marijuana plants in their private residences. D.C. landlords, therefore, are now questioning their obligation to allow tenants to recreationally use and grow marijuana on their rental properties. The answer is that landlords are not required to give tenants this privilege nor should they be inclined to do so. First, despite the fact that people may legally use marijuana in D.C., such use remains a crime under federal law. For D.C. properties receiving federal funds, landlords must comply with federal law and are required to prohibit the use of marijuana and deny prospective tenants who use marijuana, whether recreationally or for authorized medical reasons. D.C. properties not receiving federal funds should comply with federal law and prohibit marijuana use because to do otherwise would, in effect, promote the violation of federal criminal laws on their rental properties. Aside from the law, there are various other business, health and safety reasons why D.C. landlords should prohibit recreational marijuana use on their properties. Namely, smoking indoors could create fire hazards, could pollute the air in the building causing a nuisance for other tenants, and could cause strong odors in carpets and walls that last long term. Further, allowing such use and growth could increase energy use on the property resulting in increased utility bills, and could also cause an increase in HVAC maintenance due to the need to inspect and replace filters much more often to maintain proper airflow and ventilation on the property. For those D.C. landlords that decide to allow the recreational use of marijuana on their properties, they may at least consider tightening up the provisions in their leases to set clear guidelines and expectations for such use. And for those D.C. landlords who decide to prohibit its use, they should ensure that their leases contain provisions that clearly indicate that the property will maintain a drug-free/smoke-free policy in spite of the new D.C. law. Our office is available to answer any of your questions or concerns on how this recent decision may affect your specific property. Read our previous article on Navigating the Pot Hole of Tenants’ Medical Marijuana Accommodation Requests under the FHA.
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