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What Virginia's new marijuana law means for renters

Attorney: 'Some landlords may be more lenient than others'
Marijuana Virginia Generic Marijuana Bud
Posted at 5:30 PM, Jul 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 06:29:23-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- New marijuana laws have been in effect for weeks now in Virginia, but people are still getting adjusted to the changes. That includes housing managers who are trying to navigate conflicts between tenants and their neighbors.

Since July 1, Virginians 21+ have been allowed to legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow four plants inside their home. However, the law does not prohibit property owners from keeping their own policies regarding marijuana in place.

James Sayen and Jami Ramos
James Sayen and Jami Ramos

Sunday afternoon, Jami Ramos and James Sayen escaped the hustle and bustle of their West Broad Street apartment for a peaceful game of Pokémon Go at Monroe Park.

"City life is busy. I'm not really used to that," said Ramos. "I grew up in the suburbs, so I'm not used to all the sirens and loudness in general."

One thing she and Sayen have gotten used to is the smell of marijuana in their building. Even though the Commonwealth just recently moved to legalize the drug, this isn't new for them.

Rentals and Apartments Generic

"We've kind of always smelled it. People do it in the garage all the time," they said. "Sometimes we'd smell it in the hallway. I don't think anything's changed for us except I guess it's legal now, so people are going to be more open about it."

Ramos and Sayen said they don't mind it since the odor doesn't linger into their unit. But they feel like many of their neighbors might not realize that the lease bans all smoking.

"No tobacco, no nothing. No smoking of any kind and it still happens," they joked.

Similar smoking bans are common among multi-family residential buildings.

Virginia Apartment Management Association CEO Patrick McCloud
Virginia Apartment Management Association CEO Patrick McCloud

"There are many properties out there right now that have lease agreements where the residents agree not to smoke, and it is a smoke-free community," said Patrick McCloud, CEO of the Virginia Apartment Management Association.

He explained the rules are in place because landlords not only have to protect the rights of tenants, but the living community as a whole.

McCloud said just because the laws have changed doesn't mean all renters can immediately start using or growing cannabis without checking their lease or talking to their property management.

"This largely will pop up in the area of other resident complaints and management having to navigate that issue," McCloud said.

Another factor to consider: under federal law, marijuana remains illegal.

Toscano Law Group Associate Attorney Kelly Cournoyer
Toscano Law Group Associate Attorney Kelly Cournoyer

"Most agreements do still have clauses where any violation of federal law could be means for eviction," said Kelly Cournoyer, an associate attorney with Toscano Law Group. "Whenever there's a conflict between state and federal law, federal law is going to win."

Still, she doesn't foresee waves of evictions since this is such a new territory.

"I imagine some landlords may be more lenient than others, and that's definitely an open discussion that tenants should have with their landlords," Cournoyer said.

If any renters want to smoke in their apartment and it's currently prohibited, Cournoyer said it's reasonable to ask their landlord for a modification to the lease. Keep in mind though, landlords do not have to grant that request since marijuana is still federally illegal.

Toscano Law Group has launched a campaign called "Clear The Smoke" to answer frequently asked questions regarding the new marijuana laws. Click here to visit their website.

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