Legal Guide

Evicting a tenant for smoking cannabis: where there's smoke there's fire!

Discovery that a tenant in a property you own is engaged in any form of illegal activity is rightly a cause for concern for landlords, but when the activity in question is smoking weed, many landlords are unsure exactly where they stand or what action they can take.

In the UK, illegal drugs fall into one of three classes with A being the most harmful and attracting the greatest penalties and C being the least harmful and attracting the fewest penalties. Cannabis, also known as pot and marijuana, is presently a Class B drug. Possession can result in a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Part of the confusion over the status of the drug comes from the fact that between 2004 and 2009 it was downgraded from Class B to Class C. This led many to believe it had been effectively legalised as those found in possession were likely to receive nothing more than a police reprimand. Following increasing concerns about the potential for harm of super-strong varieties of pot, the classification was returned to B.

Under Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, anyone 'concerned in the management of any premises' is committing an offence if they allow those premises to be used for a number of activities including 'smoking cannabis'.

In practice, this means that if a landlord receives complaints from other tenants that joints are being smoked on the premises, or attends and discovered the distinctive odour of marijuana being smoked, he or she is potentially committing an offence if they fail to take action.

It is worth nothing that section 8 is very specific about which drugs it refers to. Smoking opium and marijuana is an offence under the act but taking heroin or cocaine is not. This does not mean that the tenant is not breaking the law by consuming these drugs, only that the landlord is not specifically committing an offence if they become aware that the drugs are being used but take no action.

Tenants are also committing a separate offence if they are in possession of any controlled drug - which they would need to be in order to smoke it. Even if the amount is purely for personal use, it remains illegal.

If the tenancy agreement specifically prohibits the use of illegal drugs or engaging in any illegal, immoral or anti-social behaviour, this may provide grounds for the tenant to be removed from the property. In order to prevent any misunderstandings, a clause that prohibits 'possession of controlled rugs unlawfully held' is usually sufficient.

When it comes to eviction, the key difficulty is obtaining sufficient evidence that a crime has taken place. Simply suspecting that drugs have been taken in the past is unlikely to be sufficient for a landlord to be able to seek possession.

Despite the current status of the drug, the smoking of the occasional joint would be seen as a low police priority and it would be difficult to convince them to carry out a raid.

Unless there is evidence that larger quantities of drugs - such as those required for dealing or trading - are involved, there is no guarantee that a police raid would be successful.

Although possession can be sought on the grounds that there has been a breach of tenancy, without supporting statements from other tenants, police action or clear evidence that a crime has taken place, a tenant may be able to successfully challenge any such action.

Landlords Lawyer are specialists in tenant eviction & legal possessions, advising and acting for private landlords for cases involving section 8 and section 21 eviction notices. Steven Conway (Director) and LandlordsLawyer can be found on Google + or followed on Twitter.

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