MARYSVILLE — When a regional representative of the Drug Enforcement Administration met with landlords and apartment operators from throughout the Puget Sound area to discuss how marijuana laws could impact how they do business, the one thing that everyone agreed upon was how much they still don’t know.
Steve Briggs serves as Counsel for the DEA in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, but when he answered questions from the Snohomish County Apartment Operators Association and the Landlord Association of the North Sound at Leifer Manor in Marysville on Wednesday, Sept. 18, the first thing he told them was that his remarks did not constitute legal advice. But as a landlord himself, he took care to explain some of the potential consequences of tenants growing their marijuana outdoors or indoors on landlords’ and apartment owners’ property.
“If it’s grown outdoors, it’s at risk of being stolen,” said Briggs, who added that home invasion robberies have been related to indoor marijuana growing as well. “If it’s grown indoors, which is the more favored method, it requires certain levels of light, humidity, water and airflow, which can cause dangerous levels of mold and mildew. The smell of marijuana in a confined space is tough for apartment owners to get rid of. It also requires electricity, which can inspire dangerous rewiring that, in turn, can lead to house fires.”
According to Briggs, the federal government will go after marijuana growers if they distribute it to minors or out of state, if they use it to fund or cover up crimes, if it incites violence or if it leads to drugged driving. At the same time, if property owners are aware that any marijuana grown on their property has led to any of these crimes, their property could be seized along with that of the growers.
“There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty right now,” Brigs said. “If Washington state’s marijuana regulations are deemed ineffective by the federal government, then federal restrictions could be reimposed. A change in presidential administrations could change things.”
Local attorney Rob Trickler, president of the SCAOA and LANS, advised attendees to take the simple step of stipulating in their rental contracts that tenants may not violate any local, state or federal laws, as the safest possible precaution.
“As a landlord or apartment owner, you can be held responsible for your tenants’ actions not only if you know about them, but also if you reasonably should have known about them,” Trickler said. “Any ambiguity is construed in favor of the tenant.”
Trickler promised to post suggested modifications to leases on the SCAOA/LANS website at http://scaoa.com, where he also pledged to provide further guidance and updates on this issue as it progresses, but he urged those in attendance not to wait for him before taking action.
“You can ask you current renters to comply with contracts that are revised as I’ve suggested, but you can’t force them,” Trickler said. “If you wait until 30 days prior to the end of their rental period, though, you can tell them, ‘This is what the new rules will be.’”