The Minnesota Supreme Court today cleared the way for a constitutional challenge to a Red Wing ordinance that requires the inspection of rental properties.
Red Wing adopted the law in 2005 amid allegations that absentee landlords were providing unfit rental properties.
But a property rights group, the Institute for Justice, challenged the requirement that landlords unwilling to voluntarily allow their properties to be inspected would face an “administrative warrant” allowing such inspections.
Red Wing’s rental inspection program has been in place for five years. During that time, inspectors have searched the rental homes of hundreds of residents, going into their closets, looking under their beds, and inspecting their bathroom cabinets. They have required “correction” of terrifying health and safety hazards like “a dirty stovetop,” a damaged bedroom doorstop and a bathroom door without a lock. After losing two attempts to get warrants to search rental homes without tenant and landlord consent, the city enacted a more limited program. Now inspectors don’t go into medicine cabinets or refrigerators. The most recent court decision seems to eliminate closets and cabinets as well, but inspectors still go into every room and still have access to all the personal information one can tell about a person from entering their living room, bathroom and bedroom. It is time for Minnesota courts to uphold the rights of ordinary residents to exclude unwanted visitors from their homes.
Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned lower courts in ruling the ordinance presents a constitutional question that should be decided.
“The constitutional issue that the landlords and tenants have raised is neither hypothetical nor abstract,” Justice Helen Meyer wrote. “The City has actually begun enforcing the rental inspection ordinance against appellants. The City has sought not just one but three separate administrative warrants over a four-year period to insect their properties, which appellants have been forced to defend.”
Lower courts had ruled that a constitutional challenge to the Red Wing ordinance was not appropriate because the landlords had successfully quashed the city’s attempts to forced inspections.
“The legal interest at stake here is the right to be free from allegedly unconstitutional searches,” Justice Meyer said in ordering the case sent back to the courts. “In this situation, the landlords to not have to wait until such a search is ordered or carried out to establish ripeness.”