Ontario Landlords Want Harsher Legislation On Marijuana

A number of marijuana supporters turned out to London's Victoria Park for 4/20, April 20, 2016. (Photo by Kirk Dickinson)

The legalization of marijuana seems to be creating more problems than it is solving for landlords in Ontario.

William Blake is a senior member of the Ontario Landlords Association (OLA) and has been in the landlord business for over two decades. He said the previous Kathleen Wynne led provincial government was putting the rights of the tenants over those of the landlords, which created a very difficult situation.

“This is one of the biggest issues I have ever heard of for landlords in the past 20 years,” Blake said. “It is a huge potential issue and it has a lot of small residential landlords pretty scared.”

Blake said corporate landlords have their own issues as well, but the OLA is comprised mostly of those with one to three smaller properties.

“The marijuana issue has made a lot of people really scared and even — honest to god — thinking about getting out of the industry,” Blake said.

According to Blake, other provinces, like Saskatchewan, were allowing its landlords association to help write new legislation to protect properties and allow landlords to decide if marijuana use was permissible on their properties.

He said under the Wynne government, if a lease didn’t specify no smoking marijuana policy then there was nothing landlords could do about it, even if the leases said no smoking of cigarettes.

Blake said he hopes the new provincial administration will take landlords best interests into consideration.

“They are already taking our concerns seriously,” Blake said. “We are helping them by giving them a lot of ideas and suggestions. Hopefully, we’ll have some new rules coming out in a few weeks.”

He added as it currently stands, tenants would be able to smoke cannabis freely and grow up to four plants in their unit and there would be nothing the owners could do about if they signed a lease that didn’t prohibit marijuana use.

For comparison, Saskatchewan created legislation with its landlords which prohibited smoking of any kind in its buildings along with the growing of cannabis and forced all current tenants to sign a new lease agreement.

Blake is hoping for the same legislation in Ontario because the smell it creates can bother other tenants to the point of leaving, and cleaning up after a smoker can be costly.

“A tenant decided to start smoking marijuana in a basement I was renting out and when he finally left, it cost me just about $5,000 to get it professionally cleaned and fumigated so I could re-rent it out,” he said.

Blake added growing plants creates a lot of moisture, which leads to mold and they require more powerful lighting which can create fires hazards. He said both raise insurance rates, which makes the situation even more costly.

Blake isn’t completely against the idea of smoking all together though. He said the creation of legislation like this could open the doors for 100% marijuana friendly buildings.

“We want the landlord to be able to control their property,” Blake said. “I am actually doing some investing in this because in Ontario you can’t smoke on public property so there will be a demand for rental housing that allows marijuana. As long as all the tenants in that property are on board and know what they are getting into. If someone does smoke they can be assured there’d be no eviction notices or hassles with the landlord.”

Blake said there would be rules as to how many people can smoke in the unit to prevent turning it into a public smoke shop.

He added the rent would likely be a bit higher than normal to compensate for costs. He compared it to his pet-friendly buildings where all the tenants entering a lease are well aware the others are pet owners and there is a limit to the number of pets per unit.

On the flip side though, Blake wants to expedite the eviction process for those who smoke in units that prohibit it. He said right now it can take months to evict someone for breaking the rules and if they continue to smoke in that time, it will lead to a more costly cleanup for the landlord.

Blake said there should be a warning for the first offence, but would like the eviction process to take a week or less after that.

“So if someone is smoking and you can prove it with other tenants as witnesses, we could speed up that eviction process to instead of taking months, take a week or a few days,” he said.

It may seem like a pretty harsh punishment to kick someone out and only give them a few days to find a new home, but Blake said as long as the landlords made the rules clear, the tenant has no one to blame but themselves.

“We are telling all our members that when you rent to someone you have to be very clear on the rules,” Blake said. “We advise our landlords that if someone is smoking in a prohibited unit, to talk to the tenant and remind them of the rules. If it continues something should be done and it shouldn’t have to take months.”

Blake said if the new provincial government doesn’t do something about the issue, he believes the industry will lose more and more landlords who choose to invest their money elsewhere, including out of Ontario.

“You can’t keep bashing landlords and giving all of these challenges to us or who is going to invest?” Blake said. “People are going to say ‘I am going to put my money in mutual funds or the stock market or I am going to invest in another province.’ Now in Ontario, we find a lot of people who used to have rentals are investing in places like Florida.”

Many landlords have begun including marijuana in new rental agreements since the federal government’s legalization announcement last year. Blake hopes the provincial government will climb on board before legalization becomes official on October 17.