Just north of Chicago, the city of Zion, Illinois, requires landlords to force tenants to open the doors of their homes to city inspectors without a warrant. If a tenant refuses to consent to an inspection, the city threatens their landlord with ruinous fines. The city refuses to acquire search warrants in response to tenant objections, and it is apparent that the practice is part of a broader plan to discourage renters from living in Zion at all. But renters have the same constitutional rights as homeowners—and the city can’t force its way into bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens without a court order.
The history of Zion’s rental inspection ordinance is dubious. When it was introduced in 2015, the mayor identified the high percentage of renters in Zion as a reason why the town’s finances were in poor shape. The mayor thinks he was elected “to change what this town looks like,” even if that means using unconstitutional searches to make renting more difficult for tenants and landlords alike.
Josefina Lozano owns a well-maintained multi-family building in Zion. Some of her tenants have rented their homes since she purchased the building in the early 1990s. She does not want to force these tenants to give up their constitutional rights. When inspectors knocked on doors demanding to be let in earlier this summer, the tenants refused entry and asked the inspectors to return with search warrants. Instead of getting warrants, the city sent Josefina a threatening letter giving her until September 29, 2019, to comply or face fines that could reach five or six figures.
Another landlord who has been fighting the city over the ordinance was recently fined tens of thousands of dollars. The city stated in writing that it thought search warrants were optional—not constitutionally mandated. Rather than wait for the city to bankrupt her, Josefina and three of her tenants have joined with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a federal lawsuit to shut down Zion’s warrantless inspection program, because your home is your castle, whether you rent or own.
In April 2022, Zion amended its rental inspection ordinance to no longer punish landlords and tenants who refuse warrantless inspections. Then, in January 2023, a judge ratified a consent decree which mandates that Zion no longer punish renters and landlords for declining warrantless inspections.
Motion for TRO
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint
Defendants' Memorandum in Support of their MTD
Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Defendants' Reply Memorandum in Support of their MTD
Can the government force you to submit to an intrusive inspection of the most intimate areas of your home—your bathroom, or even your bedroom—without your permission? If you refuse to give permission for inspection, can the government issue ruinous fines to your landlord? The U.S. Constitution says no, but that isn’t stopping the city of Zion, Illinois, from trying to make life difficult for landlords and tenants alike.
The mayor of Zion isn’t happy with the makeup of his city. In pushing forward a 2015 rental inspection ordinance, he blamed the city’s financial crisis on the “overabundance of non-owner-occupied rental property.” And while Zion may have a high percentage of homes that are rented rather than owned, those renters are entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches as homeowners.
The city doesn’t want to go through the constitutionally required procedure to get a warrant. It would rather make landlords force their tenants to open doors to city inspectors whenever they come calling. The ordinance does this by threatening $750 daily fines against landlords for every day a tenant refuses an inspection. That can add up quickly if multiple tenants assert their constitutional rights. The city recently moved to enforce against one landlord, and the fines could reach more than six figures.
Josefina Lozano immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a child and has run her own real estate investing business since 1984. In 2005, she obtained a law degree. Josefina and her husband of nearly 40 years raised two children and have two grandchildren.
Josefina purchased two multi-family properties at 1503 and 1509 27th Street in Zion in the early 1990s. The building is well-maintained and some of the tenants have rented from her for decades. Josefina is unwilling to make her tenants give up their constitutional rights, even though the city government is threatening massive fines.
Robert and Dorice Pierce have rented from Josefina since June of 2000. He is an accountant for a wine distributor, and she is retired. They are both from the area and have five grown children and 16 grandchildren.
Della Sims is a retired postal worker who has rented from Josefina since 1998. Della has two children and a grandchild.
Each of these tenants values their personal privacy, and they will not consent to an inspection of their home. They insist that the city obtain a warrant before conducting a wall-to-wall search of their most private spaces.
The Legal Challenge
When cities punish landlords and tenants with ruinous fines when their tenants do not consent to a rental inspection, they are unconstitutionally violating individuals’ property and privacy rights. A warrant is not just one option a city can take to respond when a tenant does not consent to an interior rental inspection—it is the only one. And Zion cannot get around the warrant requirement by punishing people just for exercising their constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court has upheld this principle—that only a search warrant or consent are permissible means for a city to enter a home—countless times. But cities like Zion ignore this precedent and assume their citizens won’t have the means to discover it, let alone use it to stand up for their rights. This case seeks to solidify long-standing precedent that the government cannot enter your home without a warrant, and it cannot punish you for insisting that the government obtain a warrant. Period.
Over 20 years ago, IJ fought a similar ordinance in Park Forest, Illinois, that required the mandatory inspection of single-family rental homes. The settlement secured by IJ protects private property rights and warrantless inspections of property, requiring probable cause that a housing violation exists.
The Litigation Team
This case is being led by IJ Attorney Rob Peccola and IJ Constitutional Law Fellow Adam Griffin. They will be assisted by Illinois attorney James Joseph of Eimer Stahl LLP.
About the Institute for Justice
The Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty and the nation’s leading advocate for property rights. IJ has successfully challenged a rental inspection program in Yuma, Arizona, and is currently challenging the rental inspection regime of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Seattle, Washington. IJ has spent more than 25 years fighting for the rights of all Americans to be secure in their homes and businesses and safe from abusive government policies. IJ’s victories have saved homes and businesses, including the home of an Atlantic City widow; 17 homes and businesses in Lakewood, Ohio; and a boxing gym for inner city youth in National City, California.
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