The Wiebesicks. Image source: Institute for Justice
A Minnesota city is asking a court for a warrant to enter a rental home in order to check to see if the place is clean. If the city wins the case, then inspectors apparently would be able to enter such a building anytime they wish.
The renters and tenants say they have nothing to hide but are opposing the city’s move based on principle. If they want to leave dirty dishes in the sink, they say, they it should be perfectly legal.
“Your home is your castle—irrespective of whether you rent it or own it,” said Anthony Sanders, an attorney for Institute for Justice, which is representing the renters and tenants. “What we do in our home is our business, not the government’s. 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. It is a fundamental violation of the Minnesota Constitution’s protection against illegal searches.”
Sanders is representing the renters as well as Jackie and Jason Wiebesick, the owners of the rental unit in Golden Valley, Minnesota.
The city of Golden Valley is asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to grant the warrant even though there have been no allegations that ordinances have been violated. Instead, the city wants to see if the tenants are following minimal standards that include keeping the kitchen and toilet clean, the Institute said.
City Not Backing Down
The city tried to do an end-run around the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures by asking Hennepin County Judge Susan Robiner for an administrative warrant to search the duplex; the warrant was requested without the knowledge of the Wiebesicks. The city argued that no evidence of wrongdoing is required for the issuance of an administrative warrant.
Robiner turned down the warrant application, ruling that the city’s request violated the Fourth Amendment. The city appealed Robiner’s ruling to the court of appeals.
“Both the United States Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution provide that persons shall be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and impose a warrant requirement supported by probable cause,” Robiner wrote. “The privacy interest in one’s home is well-recognized as of greatest constitutional significance.”
The city had sought the administrative warrant after the Wiebesicks and their tenants refused to let an inspector into the duplex.
“What’s at stake is a simple matter of making sure we have safe housing that meets minimal standards,” Golden Valley Fire Chief John Crelly told CBS Local Minnesota. “In general, there are no unannounced inspections.”
But the Wiebesicks see it quite differently.
“Tenants should enjoy the same level of privacy in their homes as homeowners,” said Jason Wiebesick. “We’ve done nothing wrong and we have nothing to hide. The city of Golden Valley shouldn’t be allowed to force its way into innocent people’s homes.”
Said Institute for Justice attorney Meagan Forbes, “Golden Valley is doing what countless cities do: forcing their way into people’s homes without any suspicion they’ve done anything wrong. This has to stop.”
The ordinance in Golden Valley allows city inspectors to enter rental units to check on things like the cleanliness of kitchens and bathrooms. At least four other cities in Minnesota have similar ordinances.
The League of Minnesota Cities, an organization of municipal governments, has filed an amicus brief in support of Golden Valley’s petition request, CBS Local Minnesota reported.
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