The Minnesota Supreme Court today cleared the way for a constitutional challenge to a Red Wing ordinance that requires the inspection of rental properties.
Red Wing adopted the law in 2005 amid allegations that absentee landlords were providing unfit rental properties.
But a property rights group, the Institute for Justice, challenged the requirement that landlords unwilling to voluntarily allow their properties to be inspected would face an "administrative warrant" allowing such inspections.
Red Wing's rental inspection program has been in place for five years. During that time, inspectors have searched the rental homes of hundreds of residents, going into their closets, looking under their beds, and inspecting their bathroom cabinets. They have required "correction" of terrifying health and safety hazards like "a dirty stovetop," a damaged bedroom doorstop and a bathroom door without a lock. After losing two attempts to get warrants to search rental homes without tenant and landlord consent, the city enacted a more limited program. Now inspectors don't go into medicine cabinets or refrigerators. The most recent court decision seems to eliminate closets and cabinets as well, but inspectors still go into every room and still have access to all the personal information one can tell about a person from entering their living room, bathroom and bedroom. It is time for Minnesota courts to uphold the rights of ordinary residents to exclude unwanted visitors from their homes.
Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned lower courts in ruling the ordinance presents a constitutional question that should be decided.
"The constitutional issue that the landlords and tenants have raised is neither hypothetical nor abstract," Justice Helen Meyer wrote. "The City has actually begun enforcing the rental inspection ordinance against appellants. The City has sought not just one but three separate administrative warrants over a four-year period to insect their properties, which appellants have been forced to defend."
Lower courts had ruled that a constitutional challenge to the Red Wing ordinance was not appropriate because the landlords had successfully quashed the city's attempts to forced inspections.
"The legal interest at stake here is the right to be free from allegedly unconstitutional searches," Justice Meyer said in ordering the case sent back to the courts. "In this situation, the landlords to not have to wait until such a search is ordered or carried out to establish ripeness."
This sounds bogus to me, like some landlords are afraid they'll get in trouble because their properties are not up to code so they don't want them inspected. And so they've conjured up that ridiculous scenario about inspectors looking under beds and in refrigerators, etc.
I highly doubt that Red Wing inspectors are looking in closets and refrigerators unless there's a good reason to do so. Code violations can occur in refrigerators and closets. Many years ago, a St. Paul inspector ordered my landlord to fix or replace my refrigerator because it wasn't working properly. The landlord NEVER would have done anything about it if not ordered to do so.
As far as I know, rental housing inspections in Mpls. and St. Paul (and probably everywhere else) are not voluntary. Inspections and licensing of rental properties are done for good reasons.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not bogus. Put aside your blind hatred for landlords for a moment because you know that's not the question the court will be considering. Think about it does the city have the right to routinely inspect your home without probable cause or even notice? That's the question. Everyone should want this case decided!
I supervise a rental housing program, the pendulum of justice can swing to both extreme positions. There are many renters who would suffer from the loss of a rental housing program. This morning we were called because of no heat for three days and the renter told us that they could get no results from the landlord. Our rental ordinance required the landlord to immediately fix the issue and we made sure repair people were on scene and we will check back later today. If the landlord would not have taken action we could have, and recovered the cost. We have also been involved between renters and landlords where the renter was in the wrong. All in all a good rental program helps renters and it holds landlords to a standard, it also protects landlords from poor renters, in a perfect world you would not need such laws if some landlords and renters were better people.
I presume a complaint from a tenant to a city about code violations would constitute "probable cause."
I probably do have something like hatred for landlords. I had about ten landlords in my relative youth, and only one of them was interested in providing safe and comfortable housing for his tenants. ALL of the others were only interested in growing their profits and seeing how much they could get away with in terms of code violations and general weaseliness.