We had a reader call in and ask a couple of questions, today we are going to tackle the first one. Why is Kansas City Missouri wanting to create a law that calls for the inspections of rental properties? Didn’t they find it Unconstitutional?
So reader here’s the deal.
We are not sure why the cities are enacting these laws. They say it is to protect people and as a result of complaints on the poor housing stock in many areas. We think that there was some big convention of city manager gurus who came up with the best way to fix your city is to chase after the landlords because they have deep pockets and don’t maintain their properties. However not many landlords have deep pockets and most work hard to maintain their properties.
Is it unconstitutional?
Where the unconstitutional comes into play is when the city has an inspection program that says they can go into a renter’s home because they can. However, the 4th Amendment says that they can’t go into anyone’s home with out consent without a warrant and you can’t get a warrant without probable cause.
In Kansas, they passed a law that basically states that cities can enter a tenant’s home with out their consent, tenant says no, and the city inspectors cannot come in, end of the inspection. So many cities in Kansas do have a licensing and exterior inspection. Others have an interior inspection, but if the tenant will not let them in, they have to go get a warrant or skip that property. We found a couple of articles here and here
In Missouri, the Missouri Property Owner Association attempted to get a state law passed in 2017 that would prohibit cities from inspecting rental property without the consent of the tenant. The legislation passed the House but died in the Senate. They will try again in 2018.
MAREI did an unofficial Online Study and found that in many states, tenants brought suit against the city inspection program as follows:
A tenant refused to allow an inspection of his rental unit and was arrested. The tenant argued that the ordinance violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the warrantless search of residential property under the ordinance by municipal inspectors was an unreasonable search. The court further rejected attempts to justify the warrantless administrative searches on the grounds that they make minimal demands on occupants; that obtaining warrants in such cases is unfeasible; or that area-inspection programs could not function under reasonable search-warrant requirements.
The court also wrote that due process must be afforded: “Administrative searches of the kind at issue here are significant intrusions upon the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment, that such searches when authorized and conducted without a warrant procedure lack the traditional safeguards which the Fourth Amendment guarantees to the individual(.)” The court noted, however, that a reasonable area-inspection program, set up in response to an example of known code violations or a reasonable appraisal of conditions in an area as a whole, may give a municipality probable cause to inspect.
Here are some of the cases we found online.
Florida: Landlords must Register Annual Registration of $75 with Biennial Exterior Inspection. Interior inspections can be complaint based, at the inspector’s discretion or if they have 3 code violations.
Colorado – Mandated an inspection of the rental property once every four years. In Federal Heights, the renters and the landlords fought back against their inspections laws. Their Director of the inspection program resigned and there was a citizen recall effort against two city council members. Now they can still do the inspections but must have a federal warrant.
Ohio – Federal court found the occupational licensing requirements imposed upon landlords, their rental inspections and licensing fees violations the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Local government agents do not have unlimited authority to force entry into Ohioans’ homes or businesses. More
Michigan – changed their laws to have inspections only at the consent of the tenant.
Wisconsin: Had a Time of Sale Laws requiring that an inspection is made at the time of sale of all property. The state passed a law to limit Time of Sale Inspections.
Wisconsin: No city, village, town, or county may enact an ordinance that does any of the following. . .. requires that a rental property or rental unit be inspected except upon a complaint by any person, as a part of a program of regularly scheduled inspections. To inspect, they must have an administrative warrant to enter the property.
Virginia: The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia cautioned officials that the city’s ordinance allowing rental properties to be inspected without a warrant is unconstitutional.
Pennsylvania: Landlords must submit to rental inspection. Local landlord and two of his tenants have brought a case against the Pottstown inspection laws. A case is brought by the Institute for Justice a National Firm that fights for liberty and property rights.
Arizona: In 2002 the Institute for Justice filed against the city of Yuma Arizona and their rental inspections with out a warrant.
Minnesota: Landlord and Tenant decide to resist city’s interior rental inspection law. City went to get an administrative warrant to inspect, the Judge did not grant said warrant. The city appealed and it is now sitting in court awaiting a decision.
California: The Pacific Legal Foundation brought suit against the City of Highland California in 2016 regarding warrantless inspections. The rental property owners dismiss their case when the city changes their inspection policy.
Manhattan Kansas: Landlords must register. Property owners, managers, and current tenants may voluntarily schedule property maintenance inspections at no cost, they are not mandatory.
Lawrence Kansas: landlords must register and obtain a license. Must be inspected every three years. If the tenant will not allow entrance, then the inspector must obtain an administrative warrant based on “reasonable suspicion” that there are unsafe, hazardous condition inside or a public nuisance.
Columbia Missouri: Landlords and property managers must submit to inspections of rental property, but the landlords can ask for the inspector to obtain an administrative warrant.
Independence Missouri: Landlords must get a license and schedule and pay $50 for an inspection. Since it has passed, their list of inspection items has dropped several items including feces on the floor, why a landlord would be responsible to clean feces of a tenants floor is beyond imagining.
Kansas City Missouri: Currently landlords must register for a fee. They are trying to pass a new registration and licensing program that would require inspections. But they were unsuccessful in getting the city council to put it on the ballot and because there is a fee, the citizens must vote. However there is an new law on the books in Missouri that when we register our rental or our vacant properties, if we own them in an LLC, we must file an affidavit with the city listing the name and street address of at least one individual that has management control and responsibility for the property.
If you know of a court case in your city or town, please comment to this article to add it to the list.