When Sacramento renters get caught illegally cultivating marijuana, it’s their landlords who get the bill — and it can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Over the past two years, the city has assessed $94 million in administrative penalties against property owners accused of violating the local cannabis ordinance, CapRadio has reported. The ordinance, which took effect in August 2017, limits the number of plants that may be cultivated at a property to six and charges $500 per plant in excess of that number. 

And now, other California cities may be looking at Sacramento’s enforcement tactics as a possible model for their own marijuana-cultivation measures.  

Sacramento City Hall

Enforcement of the Sacramento ordinance has focused overwhelmingly on rental properties, and in many cases, landlords don’t know about illegal marijuana growing on their property until receiving a fine from the city.  

While tenants accused of operating grow houses may be charged with a misdemeanor, pay a $500 fine and perform community service, it’s the property owners who face the steepest penalties.  

One rental owner who contacted CAA thoroughly screens tenants, performs annual inspections as required by the city’s inspection program, and even drives by the property once a month. 

Yet the city issued the owner a $17,500 fine after someone reported marijuana plants being grown in a backyard greenhouse and the police conducted a raid. The owner expects to pay $5,000 for an attorney to appeal the fine. 

The owner never imagined this could happen to a diligent rental owner and asked CAA to warn others. 

After speaking with the owner, Jim Lofgren, senior vice president of the California Apartment Association in the Sacramento region, contacted the Sacramento City Attorney’s Office to request a review of its cannabis enforcement practices and excessive fines. A follow-up meeting with the city attorney is scheduled for Oct. 10.  

Lofgren also explained the plight of owners to the CapRadio news reporter investigating the issue. Landlords must inspect their properties each year but can’t always tell what’s going on inside.  

Jim Lofgren

“Tenants have privacy rights that limit rental owners’ access inside their units,” Lofgren said. “It is very easy for renters to break the law without their rental owner’s knowledge.” 

He also questioned the motives of the city in placing the largest burden on property owners, even if they’re unaware of any wrongdoing.  

“The city seems to go after property owners because they have deep pockets, rather than tenants who get away with little or no consequences at all,” Lofgren said. “It’s unfair that rental owners receive six-figure fines for something they knew nothing about and could do little to prevent.”