By Robert Nislick
On Election Day 2016, Massachusetts voters approved Question 4, and passed The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. One purpose of the act is to “make marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age or older”. See Act, § 1. The act will take effect on December 15, 2016. See Act, § 12.
The legalization of marijuana will affect Massachusetts landlords and tenants. The portion of the Act dealing with the regulation of the use of marijuana not medically prescribed, states in pertinent part:
“This chapter shall not be construed to:
(1) prevent a person from prohibiting or otherwise regulating the consumption, display, production, processing, manufacture or sale of marijuana and marijuana accessories on or in property the person owns, occupies or manages, except that a lease agreement shall not prohibit a tenant from consuming marijuana by means other than smoking on or in property in which the tenant resides unless failing to do so would cause the landlord to violate a federal law or regulation;
(2) prevent the commonwealth, a subdivision thereof or local government agency from prohibiting or otherwise regulating the possession or consumption of marijuana or marijuana accessories within a building owned, leased or occupied by the commonwealth, a political subdivision of the commonwealth or an agency of the commonwealth or a political subdivision of the commonwealth; . . . .”
Act § 5, G. L. c. 94G, § 2 (d).
Essentially, a landlord can prohibit a tenant from smoking marijuana in the leased premises. The landlord may want to have the tenant sign a “NO-SMOKING ADDENDUM” to the lease, and this will prohibit the tenant and guests from smoking anywhere on the landlord’s property, inside and out. If the tenant violates the provisions of such a no-smoking addendum, the lease may permit the landlord bring a cause eviction after serving a 7-Day Notice to Quit. For additional insight, please read my companion article, “Smoking and Evictions in Massachusetts”.
However, a landlord cannot prohibit a tenant from consuming marijuana by means other than smoking, unless failing to do so would cause the landlord to violate a federal law or regulation. One interesting feature of the new law, which many private landlords will consider unfair, is that it provides the commonwealth and local governments with the ability to prohibit tenants from possessing or consuming marijuana, outright and in all forms, in a building owned by the government, whereas the private landlord can essentially only prohibit smoking.
Additionally, the portion of the Act dealing with personal use of marijuana states in pertinent part:
“[A] person 21 years of age or older shall not be arrested, prosecuted, penalized, sanctioned or disqualified under the laws of the commonwealth in any manner, or denied any right or privilege and shall not be subject to seizure or forfeiture of assets for: . . . (2) within the person’s primary residence, possessing up to 10 ounces of marijuana and any marijuana produced by marijuana plants cultivated on the premises and possessing, cultivating or processing not more than 6 marijuana plants for personal use so long as not more than 12 plants are cultivated on the premises at once;”.
Act § 5, G. L. c. 94G, § 7 (a).
Essentially, a tenant can cultivate twelve marijuana plants in his primary residence. This requires water, electricity, and heat. It is easy to envision how a tenant may be growing his dime bag on the landlord’s dime.
Under the State Sanitary Code, the landlord is obligated to pay for electricity and gas in each dwelling unit unless it is separately metered and there is a written document that provides for payment by the tenant. See 105 Code Mass. Regs. § 410.354. “[A] writing is required when the obligation to provide heat and hot water is transferred to the tenant.” Young v. Patakonis, 24 Mass. App. Ct. 907, 908-909 (1987). Concerning the cost of water, G. L. c. 186, § 22, allows a landlord, under certain circumstances, to bill the tenant for water for his water usage. However, the landlord must satisfy many onerous requirements before qualifying to bill the tenant for his water usage.
With approximately 11,000 summary process cases having been filed in the Boston Housing Court and Worcester Housing Court in 2015, with many thousands more filed in the other divisions of the housing court, and in the district court, it is safe to assume that the new marijuana law will become the subject of litigation between landlords and tenants.
Landlords, property managers, and tenants should seek legal counsel to help them navigate through the haze.
Robert Nislick is a Massachusetts landlord-tenant lawyer who practices in Boston Housing Court, Worcester Housing Court, Northeast Housing Court, Southeast Housing Court, Western Housing Court, and the summary process session of the District Court.