Indoor marijuana grows in rentals put landlords, tenants in a tight spot

SANTA CRUZ -- Jon Castaline, a
middle-aged disabled handyman, was looking for a place to store his
tools and his medicinal marijuana plants.

The rental units Jill
Escher oversees on Beach Hill were perfect. While the one-car garage
below a motel-turned-apartment complex didn't have electricity or water,
Castaline was allowed to install one power outlet so he could put up a
light and do his handyman work in the storage area. For $145 a month, it
was hard to beat.

But two weeks into the month-to-month rental
agreement, Escher learned from other tenants that Castaline was setting
up a medical marijuana grow in the tiny Third Street garage and his
operation quickly ended.

The fire danger, not the marijuana,
irked Escher, she said. She immediately moved to evict Castaline from
the unit and, after some resistance, Castaline agreed to vacate

The renter-landlord disagreement is not unique to Castaline and Escher.

medical marijuana cards are available in Santa Cruz County, finding a
legal place to grow pot for medicinal use is not always easy.

As a
result, tenants often set up indoor gardens without notifying their
landlords. The grows -- if sanctioned under Prop. 215, the state medical
marijuana initiative approved by voters in 1996 -- are legal and
typically do not violate the terms of a rental agreement, supporters
say. County guidelines do not limit plant quantity, but state medical
growers cannot cultivate a canopy larger than 100 square feet.

That leaves landlords who don't want marijuana grown on their property in a tight spot.

though they get a renter who can pay the rent because they're making
money growing marijuana, the risk to the home is great," said Sgt. Mark
Yanez, head of the Sheriff's Office drug team. "If they don't want that
activity, they probably should include it in their rental contract, same
thing as if they don't want pets in the house."

If a rental
contract doesn't expressly forbid growing and a landlord wants the
marijuana cultivation gone, Yanez said the best bet is to pursue an
eviction through civil court, a costly and time-consuming process.

said about 80 percent of the indoor marijuana grows his unit busts are
in rentals and that, often, property owners have no clue about their
tenants' activities.

A pot grow -- medicinal or not -- poses
several risks to the integrity of the home and the safety of those who
live there, according to Yanez.

An indoor garden introduces
moisture to the structure, which can cause mold, paint damage or loosen
mortar around masonry. Sometimes growers cut holes in floors, walls and
ceilings to add ventilation, the lights produce substantial heat and a
grow requires ample electricity, so a grower might fiddle with the
home's electrical system, according to Yanez.

"Houses generally aren't constructed with the idea that you can grow a lot of plants in there," he said.

Boulder Creek rental was damaged in August when a fire broke out in an
area where about 30 marijuana plants were growing, according to the
Boulder Creek Fire Department. The small fire, which started when no one
was home, caused about $20,000 in damage.

But Yanez also
acknowledged that not every marijuana grow will cause these problems and
that some property owners have no qualms with indoor pot gardens.

"If they're OK with it, then more power to them," Yanez said.

Escher, the issue wasn't marijuana so much as the dangers the grow
could pose to the 12 tenants living above the garage Castaline rented.
She said it wouldn't matter if Castaline were cultivating marijuana,
growing tomatoes or cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven.

"My beef isn't with his ability to smoke. Fine. I could care less," Escher said. "This is about protecting my tenants."

company Escher works for, Claradon Properties LLC, provides low-income
housing to autistic and special-needs adults through the Housing
Authority. Years ago, there was a fatal fire at that complex on Third

"I don't really care if he has permission to grow plants.
... He can talk to me about marijuana laws all day long. It's
irrelevant," Escher said. "The last thing I want is another fire at this
property, which is clearly a vulnerable property."

said he has no space to tend to the plants in the on-site housing he is
provided at the motel he maintains. He was keeping 11 plants and four
clones in a 7-by-7-foot mylar-lined room framed inside of the storage

The motel handyman, wearing a T-shirt and paint-stained
sweatpants, said he suffered a serious neck injury in a car crash and
uses marijuana to cope with the residual pain. His prescription
medications cost $400 a month, he said.

"It's legal and I've done nothing wrong," Castaline said before Escher inspected the storage unit Wednesday.

He eventually removed the plants, but said he didn't know where he would take his personal-use grow.

"Maybe they should advertise pot-friendly," he suggested to landlords.

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