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NATIONWIDE CHALLENGES: Lawsuits fly over rental inspection programs. Is CoMo next?

A nation fed up with expensive, expansive city intrusions 

COLUMBIA, Mo  6/22/17 (Beat Byte) -- When in 2015 a Federal Court in Ohio ruled that state's residential rental inspection laws unconstitutional, the Justices repeated:

“The physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.”

Yet, Columbia rental inspectors enter homes virtually every day of the year, without warrants; without renter consent; and with the city's urging that property managers and owners sign away their 4th Amendment rights for rental permits.

Inspectors are permitted -- and may even be obligated -- to turn over relevant findings to law enforcement, making these rental inspections police searches by proxy.     
The Ohio case of Baker v. City of Portsmouth is one of many rental inspection challenges nationwide. Most rental inspection programs are in small cities; large cities with diverse populations and urban savvy are less tolerant of such intrusions.

Still, property owners and renters are fighting back against this government overreach, which in Columbia comes with a half dozen fees up 70-370% in just 5 years.     A challenge to Columbia's rental inspection law may be in the offing, and may include class action damages for all rental inspections performed without judicially-approved search warrants since the law was passed in 1978.   

Here's a look at rental inspection challenges across the U.S.

1)   PORTSMOUTH, OH.    The Southern District of Ohio in 2015 ruled that the City of Portsmouth’s occupational licensing requirements imposed upon landlords – – rental property inspections and licensing fees – – violates the Fourth Amendmentto the United State Constitution.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law’s victory on behalf of Portsmouth rental property owners Ron Baker, Nancy Ross, Thomas Howard, and Darren Oliver means that indiscriminate and warrantless government inspections of rental properties are unconstitutional nationwide, and that unlawfully-extracted “rental inspection fees” must be returned to the rental property owners who paid them.


2) POTTSTOWN, PA.    The Institute for Justice, landlord Steve Camburn, and two of his tenants, Dottie and Omar Rivera, are challenging a rental inspection program nearly identical to Columbia, Missouri.
"Pottstown’s ordinance gives officials blanket authority to search anywhere in tenants’ homes for housing code violations," the lawsuit explains.   "There are no meaningful limitations on where officials can search, and there are no safeguards on what they can share with law enforcement or other government officials. "

STORY HERE (be sure to read Explore Case in Depth):
3) HIGHLAND, CALIF:    The Pacific Legal Foundation filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California challenging that city's rental inspection program in July 2016.

As in Columbia, “instead of simply responding where there have been complaints about code violations, Highland adopted the goal of aggressively inspecting all 4,800 rentals within city limits, whether or not there have been complaints."
“With its crusade to inspect all rental properties, even those without tenant complaints, the city is wasting its resources, and harassing law-abiding people. Ironically, this is the kind of regulatory overkill that can reduce the supply of rental housing by causing conscientious and hard-working property owners to decide it’s not worth it.”

Media coverage
4) MANHATTAN, KANSAS:   In 2009, the city passed a rental inspection ordinance with mandatory interior inspections.   In 2011, responding to 4th Amendment outcries, the city repealed it.   This February, Manhattan passed a simple rental registry that does not require inspections.

5) GOLDEN VALLEY, MINN. "Do Renters Have Fourth Amendment Rights? Many Cities Don't Think So," is the title of a Forbes Magazine article from last July about Jason and Jacki Wiebesick's lawsuit against this Minnesota city.
Tenants should enjoy the same level of privacy in their homes as homeowners,” they say. “Nothing in the ordinance prevents inspectors from bringing police into tenants’ homes or from sharing information with law enforcement."

6) ARIZONA, GEORGIA, ILLINOIS:  States where the Institute for Justice has successfully litigated against rental inspection programs.

7) FEDERAL HEIGHTS, COLORADO:  Huge uproar over rental inspection program that forced resignation of rental home inspector and Council member recall petitions.


8) WISCONSIN: State law passed in February 2016 outlaws all rental inspection programs and other rental licensing programs in cities, towns, counties, villages, across the state.


9) KANSAS: As of July 1, 2016, Senate Bill 366, new law prohibits cities from inspecting a rental dwelling without the occupant’s consent.




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