Illegal Growing Operations
Lately, in California, many innocent landlords come to find that their tenants have been
operating illegal marijuana growing operations in and on the premises rented to them.
In order to convert a premises for the cultivation of marijuana significant changes are made to
a property’s structural, electrical and HVAC systems. Structural alterations and damage to a
premises are usually extensive and include holes in walls, floors, ceilings and roofs, and large
electrical panels and wiring is mounted in the property and boards nailed on the ceiling.
Extensive damage is also found in the bathrooms and to air ducts as well. Aside from the
obvious structural damage, toxic mold may also be present from the excess moisture introduced
into the building due to irrigation systems used to provide water to the marijuana plants and
increased humidity due to the number of plants. The structural and electrical alterations along
with the possibility of water damage and toxic mold may make the premises unsuitable for
human habitation unless proper repairs and remediation are undertaken. If the necessary remedial
measures are not taken the premises may be permanently damaged and property value of other
homes in the area may be lowered. Needless to say, major remedial measures are required to
make the premises structurally sound and safe for occupants.
In such situations, landlords look to their insurance carriers to get the property back to normal.
Unfortunately, lately, many landlord policies contain language specifically excluding vandalism
for “illegal growing operations.” Under such language, many landlords are finding their claims
for vandalism as a result of a tenant’s acts of illegal growing operations on the property are not
covered, leaving upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars unpaid for repairs and policies
rendered useless for the unsuspecting landlord.
However, for those policies in which “illegal growing operations” are not specifically excluded,
such claims are, or at least should be, covered under the peril of Vandalism. This is especially
true if the policy does not contain a specific definition for Vandalism, in which case the plain and
normal definition would be used and would be interpreted broadly, protecting the objectively
reasonable expectations of the insured.
Lastly, if for whatever reason insurance benefits cannot be obtained for repairs for such
vandalism, the landlord should also be mindful that the tenant is a source of recovery for their
wrongful conduct and should be pursued