Can Chicago Landlords Ban Cannabis? Your Legal Weed Questions Answered

An illustration of Chicago two flat buildings. In one window a person is leaning out smoking weed.
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ
An illustration of Chicago two flat buildings. In one window a person is leaning out smoking weed.
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ

Can Chicago Landlords Ban Cannabis? Your Legal Weed Questions Answered

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Updated Dec. 9, 2019

For some, legal weed in Illinois may conjure images of kicking back on the couch at home with a joint and some chips. But before you start shopping for munchie snacks, experts say you should review your lease.

That’s because the law that legalizes recreational pot gives landlords complete discretion over whether to allow tenants to use cannabis in their buildings.

And it’s no different for those with a medical marijuana card, largely because marijuana is still illegal by federal law and Illinois state law does not require landlords (or employers) to break with federal law.

That’s the quickest answer to WBEZ reader Melinda Croes’ question: “Since weed will be legal, how will this impact housing and housing laws? Will apartments/condos be able to restrict usage?”

For public housing residents, marijuana use at home is banned completely due to federal law. Housing activists say this regulation is borders discrimination and are urging the city to change its policy. You can read more on that here.

And for Chicagoans in the private rental market, here are are tips for tenants and landlords to navigate the question of smoking at home.

Your rights as a tenant

Tenants have the right to get clear information from their landlord on whether they’re allowed to use cannabis in the building.

John Bartlett, executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, has this tip: just ask.

“If the tenant is concerned [about whether they can use cannabis] ask the landlord upfront if it is going to be a problem. It is not against [state] law and there will be many landlords who will allow it. The same can be said for tenants that are highly sensitive to smoke.”

Tenants can be evicted for doing something in violation of their lease. For instance, many leases have a no smoking policy, which would cover marijuana use.

And that includes your backyard or back porch. You need to have explicit permission from the owner of your home to use on their property.

But tenants do have some recourse, Bartlett said.

“A landlord would have to give a tenant a 10-day notice to comply with the lease,” Barlett said. “So if a tenant quit smoking in their unit then the landlord should not be able to evict them.”

And in the case of cannabis-related conflicts among neighbors, the Denver Post and New York Times have put together these tips on how to “clear the air” and on what to do if your neighbor’s habits become bothersome.

Your rights as a landlord

As a landlord, the law gives you the right to ban medical or recreational cannabis use in your building, which includes non-smoking consumption of cannabis.

The Chicagoland Apartment Association, which helps manage more than 200,000 units in the Chicago area, suggests soliciting feedback from community members and residents when deciding on a policy.

“It’s a competitive marketplace. So I think that managers want to ensure that they understand the desires of their residents,” said Michael Mini, the association’s executive vice president.

But Mini said he’s been surprised by the lack of concern from members within his organization and that it seems landlords in the Chicago area are taking a “wait-and-see” approach.

“Many do business in other states where weed is legal,” Mini said. “So they are familiar with managing properties in jurisdictions that have recreational cannabis and it has not caused a whole lot of problems according to them.”

Regardless, Mini said it’s important to review your policy, update accordingly, and inform your residents as soon as possible. Here are some tips on how to do so. He also suggests making reasonable accommodations for medical marijuana card holders who use weed to treat an illness.

Mariah Woelfel is a reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.

Illustrations are by WBEZ’s interactive producer Paula Friedrich. You can follow her on Twitter @pauliebe.