Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches of rental units

Case Description

In June 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that city officials could enter a home to conduct an inspection without a landlord's consent, regardless of whether there is evidence of housing code violations. The court justified its position by finding that the city's interest in maintaining public health warrants inspections without landlord consent was valid as long as inspectors obtained a warrant from a judge.

On June 5, 2013, the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to a Red Wing city ordinance allowing city officials to enter a home to conduct an inspection without a tenant’s or landlord’s consent.The ACLU of Minnesota participated in the Institute for Justice case as amicus curiae at both the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, arguing that the city ordinance violates the Minnesota Constitution.

The City of Red Wing ordinance requires landlords and tenants to submit their private property to an inspection before a landlord can receive a rental license, even if there is no evidence of a housing code violation. The ordinance essentially allows the city to conduct searches of renters’ homes without individualized probable cause.

Although searches of this nature have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the lawsuit urged the Court to hold that they violate the Minnesota Constitution’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Under the Red Wing ordinance, city inspectors may enter the home under the guise of searching for housing code violations and may conduct an intrusive search of people’s dwellings and report suspicion of criminal activity relating to several specific crimes enumerated in the ordinance to the police.

In a unanimous decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court determined that a city ordinance capable of being applied constitutionally in some cases may not be struck down on a facial challenge, even if there is a very real danger that it could be applied unconstitutionally in some cases. The Court concluded that the plaintiffs here failed to meet their burden for a facial challenge to the ordinance because a district court may require individualized suspicion before issuing an administrative warrant.

The ruling leaves open the possibility for a future “as-applied” challenge to the ordinance by an individual for whom the ordinance was unconstitutionally applied. Although concurring in the decision, retiring Justice Paul Anderson noted that the Minnesota Constitution should be read to require individualized probable cause for the type of rental housing searches at issue in this case.

The petition was filed in the Minnesota Supreme Court on July 11, 2012 on behalf of landlord-appellants Robert and Rebecca McCaughtry, Timothy and Ronda McKim, Ryan R. Peterson, Douglas and Kim Sjostrom, and Bradley and Adriana Sonnentag; and tenant-appellants John W. Monroe and Jesse Stewart.

Attorney(s)

ACLU-MN Legal Fellow Jessica Arck and Legal Director Teresa Nelson

Date filed

Court

Minnesota State Courts

Status

Closed

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