Is Marijuana Legalization A Landlord’s Worst Nightmare?

byErik McLaren4 minutes

Recreational marijuana’s legalization means different things to different people. For some, it’s a culmination of a decades-long struggle for liberty and personal autonomy, but for others it’s just a pain in the neck.

Since adult-use legalization is fast approaching, these two groups need to reconcile. Landlords make up one group of people that has more reason than most to be concerned about recreational marijuana use. Certain landlords have gone so far as to try to preemptively ban marijuana smoking from their buildings. Some are even petitioning the government to allow landlords to retroactively ban cannabis on leases that didn’t already prohibit the plant.

While not all of the landlords’ concerns about marijuana legalization are totally unfounded, it’s not as if they don’t have the power to run their buildings the way they want to. Landlords have many tools to be able to protect their property and other tenants in the building as they see fit.

Landlords Can Dictate Cannabis Use in Their Buildings

There’s pressure on landlords because, in Ontario, if a person can’t smoke marijuana in their rented home, they can’t smoke it anywhere. The Ontario government has already stated that smoking cannabis will be illegal in public spaces. And even though they face this new pressure, landlords still have free reign to ban cannabis as part of a rental agreement.

According to Rodrigue Escayola, a lawyer specializing in condominium law in Ontario and Quebec, tenants already forfeit a lot of autonomy when they sign an agreement, especially in condos.

“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Well, this is my home, I should do what I want,’ but there are already rules about what colour the blinds can be, whether or not you can post an election sign and many other things like that,” Rodrigue says.

When it comes to smoking cannabis in rented spaces or condo buildings, there are already rules that say people won’t be able to smoke in common areas, like lobbies or balconies. But that hasn’t stopped some landlords from worrying that legalization will turn their properties into smoke-infested hovels.

Denise Las, founder of Lash Condo Law based in Toronto, says many of her clients are worried about cannabis legalization. “Condominium and property managers are getting very concerned. Part of this concern is a misguided fear that people who don’t smoke cigarettes will pick up marijuana after legalization, and then they’ll just have smoke everywhere,” says Denise.

While there’s no evidence that legalization will lead to more people smoking marijuana, these are still valid concerns. The smell of smoke or people growing cannabis in their home may be a nuisance. When it comes to growing cannabis, there’s also an associated risk of fire, mold, and outsized water and electrical bills.

Whether it’s a responsibility to other tenants who don’t like the smell or worries about reduced property values, landlords hold all of the cards in this situation. As long as the restrictions landlords enact don’t infringe on anybody’s rights, they can limit or allow cannabis in any way.

Buildings Have Started to Ban Any Smoking Pre-Marijuana Legalization

Cannabis legalization is new and exciting, but the plant still carries a lot of stigma for many people. Even with these agitating factors, it’s not exactly reefer madness that’s inspiring landlords to ban smoking of any kind in their buildings. “I think generally society is headed in a smoke-free direction,” says Rodrigue.

Part of the reaction to legal cannabis comes from landlords’ and condo boards’ experiences dealing with cigarette smoke in the past, according to Denise. “There have been issues with smoke penetration between units before marijuana, so boards are concerned about people's freedom to smoke what they want and people who are affected by it,” she says.

Medical Marijuana Can Complicate Things for Landlords

It’s within a landlord’s power to ban smoking inside their property. They can also ban growing marijuana plants if they choose to include these prohibitions in a rental agreement. However, people who use medical marijuana may complicate things for landlords.

Whatever prohibitions landlords set out, they must be reasonable from a legal standpoint. Wanting to protect your property from smoke damage, bad smells or other irritants is reasonable, but preventing a tenant from taking their medicine isn’t.


Litigious landlords could ask for proof that someone needs cannabis. “First a tenant would need to prove they need cannabis and that they need to smoke it,” says Rodrigue. Both Rodrigue and Denise say that their clients are mostly worried about people smoking cannabis, not eating it.

So, it’s possible landlords and condo boards may try to compromise with medical patients, allowing them to consume cannabis edibles rather than smoke it. But if a tenant can prove that smoking marijuana is the best way for them to medicate, it’s unlikely the landlord would be able to do anything about it.

Landlords Might Be Worried, But Marijuana Legalization Probably Won’t Change Much

Lou Berkovits has worked as a realtor in Toronto for more than three decades. Even though adult-use legalization hasn’t hit yet, he’s already noticed a shift in culture in rental properties and condo buildings. “Ten years ago, you’d get a lot more whiffs of cigarette smoke than marijuana,” he says. “But now, it’s much more common to smell marijuana than cigarettes.”

While condo boards and landlords will react strongly to recreational marijuana’s legalization, Lou points out that “this is a small sector of the population that has a problem with it.” Even though landlords have some legitimate concerns, they also have the ability to police these concerns freely.

How legalization will affect landlords and property owners is predictable, according to Lou. “Legalization will make a difference, but on a very small, small, small scale,” he says. “That’s my sense.”

Photo credit: Nathan Fertig