Owner Can Evict Resident for Marijuana-Related Lease Violations
Facts: In December 2016, an owner issued a resident an eviction notice stating that his use and possession of marijuana violated the terms of the lease that prohibited unlawful activity in the unit because “medical marijuana is illegal under federal law even if it is permitted under state law.”
The resident then submitted a request to the owner for a reasonable accommodation to use marijuana for medical purposes pursuant to the state’s Human Rights Act. In response, the owner halted the eviction process so that it could gather information and review the request. The owner ultimately denied the request in April 2017, explaining, “Under federal law marijuana is a controlled substance and possession or manufacture of marijuana is a violation of federal law. Fairfield Family Housing is an affordable housing complex that receives federal funds and is subject to oversight and frequent audits by the federal government. In the Landlord’s view, a request for accommodation that results in a violation of federal law is per se unreasonable, and exposes the Landlord to potential liability and/or noncompliance with federal regulations.”
When it denied the request, the owner issued a 30-day notice that it was terminating the resident’s lease. The notice stated that the resident had violated the terms of the lease when he used the unit for unlawful purposes or engaged in unlawful activities in the unit by growing and possessing marijuana; refused access to the bedroom that was used as a marijuana grow room; installed a lock on the bedroom without permission; threatened physical harm to staff seeking to inspect the bedroom; smoked marijuana in his unit in violation of a no-smoking policy; and grew and possessed marijuana in violation of a zero-tolerance drug policy.
A lower court granted possession of the unit to the owner, and the resident appealed.
Ruling: The Maine Supreme Court ruled for the owner and affirmed the lower court’s decision.
Reasoning: The court found that the resident violated his lease in three ways that were independent from his possession of marijuana. The court found that he had denied access to his unit in violation of his lease, which authorized the landlord “to enter the unit for the purpose of making reasonable repairs and periodic inspections.” Employees of the property management company testified that they had been refused entry to the unit “several times,” that inspectors had been denied access to a bedroom the resident used as a grow room, and that one inspector threatened to stop a required inspection because of the resident’s lack of cooperation.
The court also found that the resident had installed a lock on his grow room in violation of the lease, which prohibited “[a]ny alteration, addition, and/or replacement of a lock . . . without written consent of Management.” Additionally, the court found that he had intimidated staff in violation of the lease, which prohibited acts “of intimidation, retaliation, harassment, verbal abuse, physical threat of violence or social misconduct of, or to, any employee.” The management company employees testified that they felt intimidated by him because of a threatening voicemail he left for one of them and a sign on his grow room door that said “No one may enter this room! . . . . Trespassers will be shot! Survivors shot again!”
- Sherwood Assocs. LP v. Jackson, January 2019