Federal Court: Cities’ Licensing and Inspection Requirements Unconstitutional

Federal Court- Rental Licensing & InspectionsUnconstitutional

The Southern District of Ohio, in Columbus ruled that the City of Portsmouth Ohio’s occupational licensing requirements imposed rental property inspections and licensing fees upon the landlord, violating the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The successful lawsuit filed on behalf of four Ohio rental property owners and one tenant in the City of Mt. Healthy, Ohio by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law 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.

“The Federal Court’s ruling yesterday is a victory for all property owners and tenants. Local government agents do not have unlimited authority to force entry into Ohioans’ homes or businesses. To the contrary ‘houses’ are one of the types of property specifically mentioned by the Fourth Amendment; and Ohioans have a moral and constitutional right to exclude others, even government agents, from their property. Entry requires either a warrant or an emergency, and neither is present with respect to these suspicion-less rental inspections,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.”

“Government inspections of one’s home frequently results in arbitrary orders to make thousands of dollars worth of untenable improvements to even the most well-maintained properties. These enactments were nothing more than a set of back-door tactics to collect revenue on the backs of Ohio property owners, while attempting to chase ‘the wrong type of owners’ out of town.”

Susan Diott, the Judge of the Western Division of the Southern District of Ohio, found the following:

  • “[T]he Court finds that the Portsmouth [Rental Dwelling Code] violates the Fourth Amendment insofar as it authorizes warrantless administrative inspections. It is undisputed that the [Rental Dwelling Code] affords no warrant procedure or other mechanism for precompliance review . . . the owners and/or tenants of rental properties in Portsmouth are thus faced with the choice of consenting to the warrantless inspection or facing criminal charges, a result the Supreme Court has expressly disavowed under the Fourth Amendment.”
  • “The inspections are also significantly intrusive. As the Supreme Court has noted, the ‘physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.’”
  • “The search inspection sheet details eighty items to be inspected throughout the entirety of the rental property. The Court thus concludes that the intrusion is significant.”
  • “Taking into account the above factors—the significant expectation of privacy, the substantial intrusion into the home, and the inefficacy of the warrantless inspections on the proffered special need—the Court finds the warrantless inspections are unreasonable.”
  • “Having determined that the Code is not saved by special needs or the closely regulated industry exceptions, the Court concludes that the Code’s failure to include a warrant provision violates the Fourth Amendment.”

Take a second and thank 1851 Center for Constitutional law–the non-profit that argued this case–with a contributions from folks just like you. You can find them at www.OhioConstitution.org

For more information to take to your own cities