Is Pot the New Pets?

Donald Davidoff is an industry thought leader and can be reached by emailing

(Warning: Don’t read this if you’re not interested in hearing a provocative point of view)

I was meeting with a client of mine who has communities in California, and they shared a letter they were sending their residents. The letter was informing residents that, while California had passed a recreational marijuana initiative, the law gave apartment owners the right to declare their property to be marijuana free. The letter went on to inform residents that this company was exercising that right and that any use of marijuana in their apartments would be a violation of their lease and could result in eviction.

As a resident of Colorado (one of the earliest states to approve recreational use in homes) and a demand management modeler, this got me thinking. I wasn’t surprised that my client exercised their right; in fact, I expect that virtually all professionally managed communities will do or have done so already.

But is that really the right business answer? Perhaps the continued disconnect between these state laws and federal laws makes it the right answer. Perhaps there are indirect liabilities I’m not fully aware of (though not a lawyer, I would struggle to understand how liabilities surrounding marijuana would be any different than what already exists with alcohol consumption)? Or perhaps there are legitimate concerns related to managing issues like the potential for, shall we say earthy, aromas to permeate a building and annoy other residents (more on that later)?

All of which reminded me of pets and the late 1990s. Those of you in the industry long enough may remember that few mainstream operators allowed pets (excluding fish and maybe birds). There were legitimate concerns: noise, increased wear and tear on the unit and common area issues like damage to landscaping and owners not responsibly picking up pets’ solid waste.

I remember that the company I was with at the time was one of the earlier operators to introduce pet friendly policies (with accompanying pet rent). I was particularly convinced of the validity of our policy when I visited one of our communities. Archstone South Market was right on the edge of San Francisco’s financial district and attracted many professionals in its resident base. As I toured, I noticed a lot of pets. It seemed as if half the residents or more were walking a dog.

I asked the community manager about this, and she told me we were the only community in or near the financial district that accepted pets. In fact, our competitors would refer prospects with pets to us because their company policies (at the time) forbade pets. Imagine that, I thought…by allowing pets (while getting paid for it), we had turned our comps into one of our better sources of leads!

Of course, today virtually everyone accepts pets for at least part of their community (if not all). So the competitive advantage no longer exists; but it was sure nice while it lasted!

Which brings me to the title of this blog. Could marijuana be an opportunity, like pets, for innovative, early adopters to have a meaningful point of differentiation versus their comps? Sure, there are issues; but there were issues with pets that got solved. Maybe, for example, we start with allowing recreational use limited to a single building (in a garden community) or a single wing (in a high-rise community)? Analogous to pet rent (or for that matter south facing units), we could put a premium on those units and thus get paid for this. As a demand management modeler, I love the idea of this as a possible premium rent segment (just like pet owners); and it doesn’t even have to be as explicit a charge since a unit amenity rolls into the overall rent.

I’m sure there are other logistical and/or legal concerns to work out. That’s beyond the scope of this initial blog on the subject. My point is that some enterprising operator is going to take the new law and find opportunity in it rather than the easy, somewhat knee-jerk reaction of simply keeping the rules the same as they have always been. What will you do?


By Donald Davidoff.