Rental inspection program to be heard by Minnesota Supreme Court

St. Paul, Minnesota —Today, August 23, 2016, in a case expected to have statewide ramifications, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear a lawsuit challenging Golden Valley’s use of administrative warrants to force its way into the most private confines of renters’ homes, even when renters and landlords object to the search.

“The Minnesota Supreme Court will now decide whether these types of forced rental inspections are a fundamental violation of the Minnesota Constitution’s protection against illegal searches,” said IJ Senior Attorney Anthony Sanders, who represents the owners and tenants in the case. “The mere fact that someone rents a home—rather than owns it—should not give the government the right to disrupt their life, invade their privacy and search every nook and cranny of their home—all without providing a shred of evidence that anything is wrong.”

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Plaintiffs Timothy and Rhonda McKim, Douglas and Kim Sjostrom, Ryan R. Peterson, Brad and Adriana Sonnentag, and Robert and Rebecca McCaughtry are owners of a few dozen well-maintained rental properties. Photo Credit: Institute for Justice

The case began in 2015 when the City of Golden Valley wanted to inspect a rental unit in Jason and Jacki Wiebesicks’ duplex as a condition of maintaining their rental license. The city wanted to enter the home to make sure the tenants were, among other things, keeping a clean kitchen and tidy toilet. The Wiebesicks discussed the inspection with their tenants, and their tenants did not want the inspection.  Together the Wiebesicks and their tenants objected to the inspection.

“I am grateful the Minnesota Supreme Court has taken our case,” said Jason Wiebesick. “We just want to be left alone. The city shouldn’t be able to force its way into innocent people’s homes.”

Golden Valley’s rental ordinance allows city inspectors to enter every part of renters’ homes, and nothing in the ordinance prevents city inspectors from sharing information with police. Other Minnesota cities have also allowed city inspectors to obtain warrants to inspect rental properties against tenants and landlords’ wishes. The cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington and Woodbury, for example, all mandate inspections, irrespective of evidence of a housing code violation.

“These types of rental inspection programs are an end-run around constitutional protections on warrants, searches and seizures,” said IJ Attorney Meagan Forbes. “We hope that the Minnesota Supreme Court will put an end to these abusive inspection programs. Renters are not second-class citizens. Their homes are just as sacred, and the Minnesota Constitution protects them just as much as owner-occupied properties.”

In 2006, IJ filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of landlords and tenants challenging similar inspections in Red Wing, Minnesota. The case was heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2013, but the Court did not answer the question of whether the Minnesota Constitution prohibits the use of administrative warrants to inspect rental homes. Now the Minnesota Supreme Court will have the chance to answer this important legal question.

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