Quebec Landlords Introduce No Weed Clauses In Leases

July 1st, 2018 marks the day the drug will be legal, but landlords are taking steps to ban smoking and growing pot in units which fuels what will ultimately be a national debate

Under Quebec’s proposed marijuana law, residents will be allowed to use marijuana recreationally in their homes but won’t be permitted to grow cannabis for personal use. Many landlords have already sent notices to tenants informing them they won’t be allowed to smoke weed in their apartments. According to the CBC, landlords are introducing clauses and conditions to get a handle on what many, if not most, assume will be an emboldened and more casual approach to smoking pot.

Kevin Lebeau, a spokesperson for the Quebec Landlords Association, thinks most people find the odour and presence of marijuana unpleasant and believes landlords need to act in the best interest of all of their tenants – including many who he believes will be vehemently against it.

“It diminishes your enjoyment of your apartment. For some people it is a health issue and other people don’t want their children exposed to this at all.” -Kevin Lebeau

In a recent association poll, a majority of members anticipate a significant increase in tenant complaints. As a result, a comparable majority has also indicated they plan to prohibit smoking marijuana inside their buildings altogether. This has put them directly in conflict with various tenant rights groups across the province who are questioning whether the smoking prohibitions will be legal once marijuana itself is legalized. The tenants’ association of Sherbrooke, Que., argues that banning tenants from smoking marijuana inside their homes will be discriminatory after July 1st. Other tenant’s rights advocates argue that since they are paying for the apartment, they should be entitled to consume cannabis or cigarettes without fear of consequence. Any position to the contrary is discriminatory.

“The landlord doesn’t have the absolute right to do whatever he or she wants at any time.” – Kevin Wright, tenant’s rights advocate.

Opinion: Neither does the tenant

Here are the facts. As of right now, marijuana is nationally illegal. Most Canadians support legalization and regulation of what is widely perceived to be a generally benign substance that has been vilified and historically  mischaracterized in the media and by the government for decades. Many, if not most people, consider it something that has benefits for those who suffer and those same people, generally speaking, consider it to be a substance that is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, which are both legal and regulated, and have been for years.

There is no law preventing you from smoking or growing cannabis in a rented unit. If your consumption or growing of marijuana impedes the use or enjoyment of another tenant’s unit or creates an issue for the landlord themselves (the landlord reserves the right to have a preference for a smoke free building or unit), then there is a problem. The landlord can pursue a provincially supported judgement against the tenant or an eviction if that is the case, and they should have the right to do that.

We need to ask ourselves if anything is served by conveniently dismissing certain realities or creating false equivalencies when it comes to this issue. Societally, we appreciate the right to clean air, personal space, and health. That’s why we have laws when it comes to not smoking in restaurants, in cars with children, or on planes.

“Smoking” cannabis is defined as the inhalation of smoke or vapors released by heating the flowers, leaves, or extracts of cannabis and releasing the main psychoactive chemical, Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs. When you smoke weed, in most cases, the process is creating a smell. That smell comes from compounds made in the plant called terpenes or terpenoids. Not all weed stinks, but in the vast majority of cases, it will produce a noticeable scent. It can and often does, smell bad, and lingers in homes and apartments – much like cigarette smoke. It’s also a psychoactive substance. Exposure to the second hand smoke of cannabis is not exactly pleasant for anyone, kids or adults.

We put value on consideration and respect for other people’s rights to enjoying their environment and space. Why doesn’t that apply here? Because it is treated and increasingly categorized as a medicine for people? Because it is inevitably going to be legal? Because people have been unjustly jailed and discriminated against because of their weed habits? Because we feel people need to get over their own hang ups and misconceptions about a natural plant that has never been the cause of death when prescription drugs and booze kill more people in a day than weed ever has? Because the time is now to make people’s lives better with deserved access to something that will reduce suffering? All of the aforementioned might be true – but we got off topic pretty quickly there.

Alcohol is legal, however, if you were producing small batches of potato vodka out of your apartment without your landlord’s knowledge, and that process was impeding the enjoyment of the unit for others or created an elevation of fire risk or informed the environment in a way that was not in the interest of the owner (i.e. odour), would we be crying foul? What entitles us to do whatever we want in a rented apartment? If a landlord wants a smoke free environment, then why is that discriminatory? What is preventing people from smoking outside – like we ask them to do in most places like hospitals, libraries, or museums currently? You should be able to do whatever it is you like in a home you own, but when you’re renting, the landlord has a reasonable right to preserve the unit he is leasing to you and protect the interests and rights of the other people who do the same thing – because – they own the premises and assume most if not all of the risk. If you that doesn’t work for you, then you have the right to find a place that does.

 

Landlords Have Legitimate Issues with Canada’s Half Baked Legislation

The Federal government didn’t bother to get into specifics on upcoming marijuana legislation.

The tabled cannabis law proposes allowing Canadians to grow 4 plants per person at home – whether they own or rent, provided the plants aren’t taller than 100 centimetres. It sounds benign when it’s framed as a new and progressive law – which in many ways it is – however the practical implications of the legislation are something that a growing number of national and provincial landlord groups aren’t happy with in the least. The government has not said if landlords will be able to prohibit tenants from growing pot in their apartments.

The Professional Property Managers Association and  The Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations are both looking to compel the government to change this aspect of the law. They both seek a ban on tenants growing plants in rented homes or multi-unit buildings. Full disclosure: we also support this change in the law as it is rooted in common sense. We touched on some of the complicated aspects of growing marijuana in a rented unit – particularly the insurance nightmare it has the capacity to create.

“I think the government is obviously balancing a lot of issues here. They do want to break the black market, and that’s important. But we think we can break the black market if they let people [only] grow it in their own owner-occupied homes, and the product is readily available in stores or by mail order.” -John Dickie, Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations

Optimal conditions for growing marijuana include warm temperatures, extensive lighting and high humidity. In order to grow weed, you need these three things. Creating the hydroponic conditions in a residence in an effort to achieve this key trifecta is not something you can do without affecting the domicile in some capacity. That’s just a fact. Water that is fed to plants will transpire and evaporate from the containers into the surrounding air. Cannabis plants also require warmth. Excess water vapour and high temperatures can create humidity damage. Large mold accumulations can follow and grow fast in humid environments and can lead to structural decay.

To boot, unusually high amounts of steam coming from vents in winter can damage exterior finishes on houses. The smell of weed seeps into drywall the same way tobacco smoke does, and even when it’s not being smoked, marijuana can create a permanent odour that can be repulsive to people – like other tenants and incoming ones in the future.

The electricity required for lighting in even a small cultivation of weed is high. It also introduces a fire concern with having that much botanical lighting in a house – and that’s assuming that a tenant doesn’t re-wire the electrical in a home (which they can’t do). Most wall outlets are on a 15-amp, 120 volt circuit. Many outlets are generally on that one circuit. One 1,000 watt metal halide or high pressure sodium light draws 9 amps at 120 volts. So just by using one of those plugged into a wall outlet, you have already significantly maxed your circuit – and that’s not taking into account the other devices, computers, or appliances that are also typically in a unit. Maxing a circuit is not a good thing. Your circuit breaker (if it’s working properly) may shut down your circuit because you’ve overloaded it. Your wiring may heat up, flame up, short out or otherwise fail. Lastly, there is an increased fire hazard danger due to people drying marijuana in a household stove.

Even four plants in a building can change the risk assessment on a property, and creates a greater likelihood of water damage, mould, fire, vandalism and burglary. Under most basic home insurance policies, marijuana-related damages or anything that companies believe is “high risk” is not covered. That view is shared by many insurance companies, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“Landlords currently have little recourse available if a tenant is growing medical marijuana and aren’t required to be told if it’s happening” -Avrom Charach, The Professional Property Managers Association

Under new federal rules introduced last August, landlords are left a little high and dry (no pun intended) if a tenant is growing licensed medical marijuana. They don’t even have the right to know it’s happening. None of that is right. The federal government should formally include a clause in the Cannabis Act including restrictions on any and all rented dwellings or they should at least mandate that provincial legislation needs to compensate for the loophole this creates.

 

 

Tenant Assured Isn’t What Landlords Need

British data mining startup Score Assured has developed a system that claims to accurately determine a person’s financial and personal worthiness based on their social media reputation and history. The company has plans to market their system to employers and dating services but, for now, called it Tenant Assured, and is focusing on landlords as customers.

This is how Tenant Assured works:

A landlord who’s signed-up with Tenant Assured sends all of their rental applicants to a special link on the Tenant Assured website. They are then asked  to provide full access to up to four of their social media profiles—on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. These are then thoroughly crawled, scraped, and analyzed by Score Assured. The scrutiny includes conversation threads, private messages, and contact lists. A report is produced and delivered to the landlord. Landlords makes a decision on whether they want to rent to an individual based on the information provided.

Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post wrote a piece on voluntarily going through the process herself. She found it uncomfortable. As per the piece:

…It’s not just the amount or detail of data that’s problematic, either. Tenant Assured reports include information such as whether you’ve mentioned a pregnancy and how old you are, which are both protected statuses under U.S. housing discrimination law. 

My personal tenant report includes a list of my closest friends and interests, a percentage breakdown of my personality traits, a list of every time I’ve tweeted the words “loan” and “pregnant,” and the algorithm’s confidence that I’ll pay my rent consistently.

Tenant Assured co-founder Steve Thornhill maintains that his product is a useful tool for landlords. “If you’re living a normal life, then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”

Here’s the thing though…we’re firmly of the opinion that being considered as a candidate for a tenancy based on your social media activity is not good business. This is unnecessarily invasive and most importantly feels weird (at least to us). While it’s true that the tenant is voluntarily providing this information, there is no way for them to view their ratings or dispute something they consider to be incorrect. Credit reports and background checks are regulated under federal law in the U.S. and in Canada and have consumer protections built into them. An algorithm that determines whether you’re worthy of an apartment based on your social media activity is not regulated at all. I mean…who doesn’t have a ridiculous tongue and cheek tweet or Facebook status meant in jest or sarcasm? Can algorithm’s detect sarcasm? We live in the age of autocorrect. It would be an understatement to say that this product will more than likely not produce a useful snapshot of a person’s payment reliability and character. We also question whether this is the right way to have a tenancy started off, even if a tenant voluntarily provides this information.

What do you think? Landlords? Do you have any comments? We’d love to hear them!

Arkansas: Bad For Tenants…But Is It Good For Landlords?

The U.S. state of Arkansas was recently featured in an excellent Vice News piece on what tenants in Bill Clinton’s home pasture deal with when they rent. The piece – entitled “Arkansas” The Worst Place To Rent In America” – was a fascinating look into a place where the lack of laws regulating the rental market work backwards. As founders of a software that serves landlords – not really tenants – and as landlords ourselves, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t sympathize more with the plight of property owners renting out to tenants. As we’ve said before, it’s a thankless job most of the time. With that said, we’re also advocates of healthy and productive relationships between landlords and tenants. Relationships that are fair, follow the law in whatever province, state, or district you happen to be in, and that include methods and approaches that are reasonable and equitable.

Here’s a few key things in Arkansas. It’s the only state in the entire country that has no “implied warranty of habitability”. In english, that means landlords have no legal obligation to repair or maintain their properties – unless there was a written or oral agreement to fix something. It’s also the only state where you can be fined and jailed if you don’t pay your rent on time. Seriously. Here it is. To real estate investors – this could be perceived as an ideal place to invest your money. The existing law favours landlords heavily, and repossessing property there is fairly easy to do when tenants don’t pay rent. On the other side of the debate, a 3rd of Arkansas’ almost 3 million residents are renters, and a high percentage of those renters have serious concerns and issues with the properties they rent. Most renters are agreeing to take their units “as is”. By law – tenants are required to pay their rent no matter what – even if landlords don’t repair or maintain their buildings and units. Taking into account that Arkansas is the second poorest state in the U.S., and that 18% of the population live below the poverty line, this creates a situation where in arrears renters get swept up into the criminal justice system.

As a tenant, if you don’t pay your rent – even if your roof has holes in it and your windows are broken, not paying gives you 10 days to vacate. If you don’t – you could go to jail. Don’t bother contesting the order to vacate, because in the vast majority of cases, tenants don’t get the opportunity. The legal process for getting in front of a judge is convoluted by the black and white insistence of whether the money is owed, and if it is, for whatever reason that might be, you’re more likely to see the inside of a jail cell than a judge. The state’s unique “failure to vacate” law sees tenants charged as criminals purely on their landlords’ say-so, without any independent investigation by prosecutors. That’s why 90% of tenants who receive an order to vacate decide to just leave. It’s simply a criminal issue immediately. To boot – Arkansas is one of only 10 states that don’t prohibit retaliatory eviction. For the uninitiated – retaliatory eviction is when the landlord doesn’t like something you’ve done..like the reporting of a health or building code violation…and wants you out of the unit. So, in short – if you’re landlord doesn’t like your face, you can be evicted. If you make a complaint, you can be evicted. If your landlord simply wants you out of the unit, and you’ve been paying on time – they can rip up a good check or make themselves conveniently unavailable to accept cash from you on whatever agreed upon date, and you’d technically be evictable.

The Non-Legislative Commission on the Study of Landlord-Tenant Laws, created in 2011 by the state legislature, released a report on Dec. 31st, 2013 that recommended 15 tenant-landlord law reforms. Lynn Foster, professor at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a member of the study commission, said, “If you’re on a month to month lease, maybe it says the landlord makes repairs, maybe it doesn’t — but if you report something to code, the first thing the landlord is going to do is try and evict you. That’s why it’s imperative that if we adopt a warranty of habitability, we also adopt a statute prohibiting retaliatory eviction.”

Human Rights Watch, an organization that follows rights violations worldwide, issued a report in 2013 called “Pay the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas’s Draconian Evictions Law.”

This is all a far cry from some of the provinces and states that have laws that in some cases favour tenants. Good laws achieve as much of a possible balance possible between the obligations of providing habitable and functional dwelling to people paying for them while also protecting the landlord’s rights and property. The lack of this in Arkansas has police being involved with evicting people for not paying their rent – an almost ridiculous waste of that resource – and people who don’t pay their rent for whatever reason in many cases entering the criminal justice system.

What do you think? Are you an Arkansas landlord? Are you an Arkansas tenant? Share your thoughts with us.

Home Insurance Industry Kicks Montreal Landlord To The Curb After Repair

Montreal property owner Sari Buksner is in the midst of a nightmare of sorts, courtesy of her insurance company, and she’s yet to wake up from it.

Back in 2012, one of her tenants alerted her to a leak dripping from the second floor to the first. Her insurance firm saw the problem was a valve linking to her water heater on the second floor. They also proactively noticed a completely separate leak, near the toilet of her third floor. The estimate on the repair work for both claims originally came in at a little under 20K.

According to the original CBC News piece, Buksner said she settled with a contractor recommended by the insurance company after the first one she found declined the job, indicating it was beyond their capabilities. Once she started with the recommended contractor from the insurance company, the work began, and unexpectedly continued for months. Some of the reasons for this included a lack of proper insulation for the new pipes, which froze, creating an even bigger issue than the initial leaks. A rip up was required, and a complete re-do of the work – as in new pipes, gyproc, drywall, painting, etc. etc. The initial $20K that was speculated turned into a little under $87,000 in construction/renovation costs. On top of this – the insurance company paid her $58,155.00 in lost rental income while the work was taking place. The total payout to Buksner was about $145,000. Whoa.

After the work was done, her insurance company decided not to renew her policy – something that insurance companies have the right to do.

So far, she has only found a willing insurer in the substandard market, and that policy would cost her around $11,000, roughly $4,000 more than what she was last paying, per year. Adding insult to injury, she’d be required to pay the whole thing up front and wouldn’t receive water damage protection. Jesus.

Thoughts? Comments? From personal experience, water damage claims aren’t exactly a cakewalk. Here’s another kicker – water damage claims are on the rise in Canada.

 

 

Landlord Sues Grow Op Operators For Destroying The Place!

A landlord in Calgary is suing former tenants for $105,000 after police discovered a grow-op in the rental property in 2011, which caused extensive damage to the house. David Gin and Michelle Chen were charged, but only Chen was convicted, sentenced, and ordered to pay restitution to landlord Steve Habbi.

“I came home from work and saw basically a police raid in action,” Habbi said. “People in bio suits and bullet-proof vests and guns and things like this, which was really surprising to me … How do people who seem so friendly to your face run something like that?”

Here’s a shocker. Habbi had checked the pair’s references when they first moved in and those all checked out, including Gin’s job as a tax auditor with the Canada Revenue Agency.

200 potted cannabis plants were removed from the property – each with an estimated street value of about $1250 each. If you do the math – that’s $250 grand. The couple had about 100 U.V. lamps in basement bedrooms. The system was set up so that it was being vented inside the house, which expedites the cultivation of mold.

Chen and Gin were charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, production of a controlled substance, theft of water and electricity and mischief. More than a year later, in November 2013, Chen pleaded guilty to production of a controlled substance and charges against Gin were withdrawn.

Chen was given an 18-month conditional sentence to be served in the community under strict conditions and was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. When Habbi argued the damages he incurred were well above the restitution amount, he says the Crown told him to sue the couple.

The case is ongoing, and Gin and Chen have yet to file a statement of defense. Steve Habbi has some advice for other landlords, though…

“Mandate in your lease that you will be doing physical home inspections on the interior of the property,” he said. “Your only hope is to deter them from coming into your property.”

Couldn’t agree more, Steve!

Holy Geez! What The Hell Is Going On In Halifax?

So…this happened in January. Halifax resident Devon Berquist had some house issues to return to after a short trip away. While those were being addressed, she claimed the landlord put her up in an equally issue ridden property. Between a posse of rats, frozen toilets, and mould, ACORN Canada ended up getting involved to represent the tenants, and the CBC ended up running a story on the whole thing. All of this ended up fuelling a protest outside of Halifax’s city hall, with about 40 tenants demanding the city do something about inhabitable living conditions in some of the city’s rental units while holding rubber effigies of rats to emphasize their point.

Councillor Jennifer Watts accepted a letter from the protesters on behalf of Halifax regional council. The council is awaiting a report from staff at the Halifax Regional Municipality, who have been asked to look at tightening restrictions on landlords.

“I think a licensing program would just make a difference, hopefully, in actually being more of a preventative action to really keep on top of what the quality and safety issues are within the existing housing stock,” Watts said, as protesters marched in the background.

Like many cities with sizeable student populations, Halifax sees a significant transient renter base. To boot – large-scale landlords own significant swaths of rental turf, and low-income renters such as students are either pushed to enclaves, or forced to live in substandard conditions.

“The real issue here is the Halifax Regional Municipality needs landlord licencing,” says Evan Coole, organizer with the Halifax-Dartmouth chapter of ACORN. “We have a minimum standards by-law, the M-100. It spells out all a landlord’s supposed to do [and] it’s really reasonable stuff.” Coole claims this is all fine and dandy, but the by-law doesn’t get enforced properly. Coole claims by-law inspectors do the minimum in the vast majority of cases, and nothing ever really gets resolved as it should.

In an effort to create a fair and accurate characterization of the situation as possible, and as reported by the media, Ms. Berquist’s lived in the initial house she rented for 2 1/2 years, which she described as “OK” – even though she cited peeling plasters and drafty windows as things that came with the turf. Upon her return to the house after the leak was fixed, she started setting traps and claims to have caught the 30 rats quoted in the initial piece by the CBC, which she claims was as a result of multiple holes in the foundation.

Here’s the update: The tenants ended up settling with the landlord, Wise Man Investments. Prior to the settlement, she claims mould and a rat infestation had forced her and her roommates out of the house earlier than their lease allowed. They were hoping to break their lease without financial repercussions.

Interestingly – the settlement, dated March 6 and mediated by Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, does not mention the tenants’ original complaints of mould, poor maintenance or the rats they say they trapped in the house.

“We opted for the financial settlement to avoid further stress as the situation had already severely negatively affected many aspects of our lives,” Berquist said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

The settlement also included a signed apology from Berquist, retracting “any comments attributed to me and reported in the media or online that the Metleges are ‘slumlords.'”

She also apologized for “any harm to the reputation and character of my former landlord, Steven Metlege Sr., caused as a result of such comments.”

According to the settlement, both parties have agreed there will be no further claims against either party.

Wow. Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering what the hell is going on in Halifax? Thoughts? Comments? Share them here!

 

Colorado Based D.C. Landlord Shares Rich Person Problems In The Washington Post

Douglas Hsiao, a Colorado lawyer and occasional columnist with the Washington Post, successfully achieved writing a sort of pointless piece about the “challenges” associated with being a landlord in Washington D.C.

As you may or may not know, the U.S. national capital has been going through a bit of a resurgence to some degree. It’s become a trendy place to live. He wrote this piece about how he can’t make money on his unit – even though $3000 a month is common for 2 bedrooms in his Dupont Circle neighbourhood.

Some gems from Hsiao’s piece:

As I admitted before, I’ve refinanced the property several times, so much of the cash flow problem is my own fault; I’ve used the condo as a bank once too often, and thus I have a fairly substantial mortgage on it. But more than that, the growth in expenses has outstripped rents for several years now, and I rent it out with nearly no cash flow.

Um. Ok. Well refinancing the unit for a Porsche will do that. Here’s another one:

As some may recall, I chose a couple who were moving from Denver to Washington, and they turned out to be the “responsible, clean, quiet, long-term, reliable, uncomplaining” dream tenants I was hoping for. I received hopeful signs throughout this past year that they would renew their lease; they e-mailed me that they loved the apartment, the Dupont Circle neighborhood and the residents. They even had the property manager prepare the renewal papers. Just when every indication I was getting seemed to suggest that they would renew, they were lured away. And not by a real estate agent waving a luxury downtown high rise or a house in Chevy Chase in front of them but by an apartment in my own building!

So you found good tenants, had the unit paid for for a year, and then they decided to buy a unit in the building you own because they loved it so much? This isn’t exactly a problem. You own a unit in a building where “responsible, clean, and quiet people” decide to buy. Clearly, you’ll never be able to find another tenant, right? Oh wait….I don’t think you’ll have a problem. Also..you live in Colorado – don’t manage the unit yourself, and are complaining about having to pay the property manager?

The National Low Income Housing Coalition published a report last year on basically how if you work a minimum wage job, you can forget about living in D.C. The cost of living in the U.S. national capital is among the highest in the nation and it’s ranked as the 6th most expensive place to live in the whole United States! It also has a crazy lucrative short term rental situation going on.

Geez man. You own a unit in a rich part of a relatively rich city. Tenants love your building so much they look to buy the units. You’re mainly attracting an affluent tenant with this place. You’re admittedly running in the red because you refinanced the hell out of the unit. Expenses are going up for everyone on utilities and such. Maybe if the place wasn’t mortgaged to hell – you’d have a bit more money available to run in the black.

Some of the post’s readers have also been critical of Hsiao’s writing. A comment on the original article goes a little something like this..

Seriously, are you only keeping this place so you can write articles for the Washington Post? This has nothing to do with real estate. This article should be in the finance section as an example of how people were using their homes like ATM’s and that is how the housing market got in the mess it is/was. This has very little if anything to do with being a landlord. If this had been going on any where else other then (sic) DC Mr. Hsiao would be talking the hard times he went through with his short sale or his foreclosure. Sell this property and be done with it and stop whining about how your (sic) not making money as a landlord because of your own financial irresponsibility’s (sic).

Life’s tough Douglas. We know. I dunno… try being a landlord in Moncton, New Brunswick or Detroit or Richmond, Virginia where the vacancy rate has been at 15%.