A Northeast Portland marijuana grower who faced eviction this month from the warehouse he rented made an unusual assertion under Oregon law:
Just like any farmer who cultivates a crop, he should be allowed to finish growing and harvesting his pot plants even though he would no longer be paying rent.
The landlord, however, took issue with that idea — arguing that the state law was meant to protect genuine farmers who till the earth and harvest their crop from the ground, not marijuana growers who cultivate their plants in pots that easily can be moved to a new place once a lease is up.
A lawsuit filed by landlord Philip G. Burnett says that pot grower Steven Travis Maurer finally has left the property, but now wants Burnett to pay him damages for the forced “premature evacuation” of the marijuana crop from the warehouse at 3605 and 3611 N.E. 50th Ave. The suit states that Maurer claimed his operation was legal under Oregon’s medical marijuana program.
“Tenant asserted that, under the doctrine of “emblements” (ORS 91.230), he enjoyed a post-tenancy right to maintain and cultivate his alleged current crop of marijuana plants and, in some fashion, to continue using Landlord’s facility to grow his marijuana,” Burnett’s Feb. 19 suit states.
The law says: “When the leasing or occupation is for the purpose of farming or agriculture, the tenant or person in possession shall, after the termination of the lease or occupancy, have free access to the premises to cultivate and harvest or gather any crop or produce of the soil planted or sown by the tenant or person in possession before the service of notice to quit.”
Attorneys for Burnett and Maurer couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
The suit offers no details about the number of plants in Maurer’s operation.
The warehouse is on a cul-de-sac just south of the Rose City Cemetery. It shares the street with a few single-family homes, a three-story condo complex and is just around the corner from Jim & Patty’s Coffee on Northeast Fremont Street.
Neighbors say the marijuana grow was there for a few years, and they could smell the odor of pot immediately next to the property on harvest days. Neighbors also say they noticed odd behavior — such as tarps stretched across the chainlink and barbed wire gate at certain times so neighbors couldn’t see into the property.
Burnett’s suit states that Maurer was renting the warehouse month to month when Burnett gave him a 90-day eviction notice in November 2014. The notice set a Feb. 16 deadline to vacate, but didn’t give a reason.
Burnett’s suit claims that after Maurer received the eviction notice, he stopped paying rent for January and February. But a Jan. 30 email from Maurer’s Portland attorney, Mark Passannante, said Maurer intended to pay the rent that was due, remove all of his plants by Feb. 13 and seek compensation from Burnett if any of his plants were hurt in the move. A copy of Passannante’s email was submitted to the court with the lawsuit.
“Should the move affect the harvest or otherwise damage those plants, Mr. Maurer reserves the right to bring a claim for damages,” Passannante wrote in the email to Burnett’s attorneys, Erick Haynie and Gabrielle Richards.
The operation now appears to be gone. Neighbors say Burnett cleaned the warehouse last week — removing large bags of soil and other items that apparently were left behind by Maurer.
Burnett’s lawsuit asks a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge to declare Maurer’s argument — that he can seek damages for any marijuana plants he was forced to “prematurely” move — bogus. Burnett also asks the judge to award him attorneys fees and other costs he’s incurred in dealing with Maurer. Burnett’s suit doesn’t seek a specific dollar amount in damages from Maurer.
— Aimee Green