Federal Court: Cities’ Rental Inspection Requirements Unconstitutional

Columbus, OH – The Southern District of Ohio today ruled that the City of Portsmouth’s occupational licensing requirements imposed upon landlords – rental property inspections and licensing fees – violates the Fourth Amendment to the United State Constitution.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law’s victory on behalf of Portsmouth rental property owners Ron Baker, Nancy Ross, Thomas Howard, and Darren Oliver 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.

These property owners had long rented their property in Portsmouth without license or inspections, and their properties had never been the subject of complaint by tenants, neighbors, or others. However, the City threatened to criminally prosecute and even imprison these landlords if they continued to rent their homes without first submitting to an unconstitutional warrantless search of the entire interior and exterior of these homes.

Read the rest of the The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law article here.

To remain within the confines of Constitutional law, will Grand Rapids end its fledgling Rental Property Program, or obtain a search warrant for every inspection? Here’s a description of what is entailed in obtaining a search warrant:

  • Only judges and magistrates may issue search warrants. To obtain a warrant, law enforcement officers must show that there is probable cause to believe a search is justified. Officers must support this showing with sworn statements (affidavits), and must describe in particularity the place they will search and the items they will seize. Judges must consider the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether or not to issue the warrant. When issuing a search warrant, the judge may restrict how and when the police conduct the search.

Further information regarding warrants as explained at the Cornell University Law School site can be read here.

It appears part of the ruling was that ‘unlawfully-extracted “rental inspection fees” must be returned to the rental property owners who paid them’. Will Grand Rapids refund these fees as a matter of course, or will landlords be required to apply for the refunds? And although a small impact, this will be yet another problem for the burgeoning $1.1 billion Grand Rapids debt.

11/5/2015 Update

The Grand Rapids Rental Property Owners Association indicated they had researched this ruling. They provided an opinion written by Kreis Enderle, shown at the below link:

Ohio US District Court David Hill Opinion on Case 10.20.15 Rental Inspections


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