IJ Puts an End to Warrantless Inspections and Crushing Fines in Zion, Illinois
A stranger asks: “Did you make your bed this morning?” “None of your business!” you bristle in response. After all, this most private of spaces—your bedroom—presents a narrative about you and your life protected by the Fourth Amendment. An unmade bed tells tales beyond tidiness. It is the bed you may share with a spouse or romantic partner. There may be medications on the nightstand, a book opened to a poignant page, contraception, jewelry, cash, undergarments—you get the picture.
So did renters in Zion, Illinois, where the city deployed a former law enforcement officer to conduct warrantless wall-to-wall home inspections of all rental properties—including family bedrooms. How would you feel if this person showed up at your door and demanded to come in?
IJ clients Robert and Dorice Pierce—longtime Zion renters subjected to this abusive program—felt outrage. When their landlord, Josefina Lozano, told them their home of years would be subject to such an invasive search, they were disgusted. They knew their home should be treated with the same privacy and security accorded to any owner-occupant. Their response to the city: “Come back with a warrant.”
But Zion did not come back with a warrant. Instead, it went to Josefina and threatened her with daily fines until her tenants capitulated. Josefina was terrified because a friend and fellow Zion landlord had just received an astonishing six-figure fine when his tenants had the temerity to demand that the city respect their Fourth Amendment rights.
This story may sound familiar to longtime IJ supporters. This is the second time IJ came to the rescue when a Chicagoland city conducted inspections against the will of tenants—and in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Park Forest, Illinois, created a punitive rental inspection regime that IJ challenged, and defeated, in the late 1990s—in a case litigated by none other than IJ President and Chief Counsel Scott Bullock.
Armed with confidence from our first victory, and inspired by our clients’ bravery, IJ sprang into action with characteristic speed. We nimbly responded to the exigency of Josefina’s plight, torn as she was between the threat of financial ruin and the injustice of coercing her tenants into surrendering their rights. Within a week of Zion threatening Josefina, we were in federal court arguing for a temporary restraining order to halt the program, which the court granted.
With enforcement successfully stalled, IJ next turned to convincing a federal judge that Josefina and the Pierces had a legitimate Fourth Amendment claim. Once again, the court agreed.
Buoyed by these early victories, our clients stood tall when the case went to mediation—they would settle for nothing less than the city’s complete capitulation. And that is what they got: a court-signed consent decree, prohibiting Zion from conducting warrantless inspections or fining landlords or residents in response to warrant requests.
After more than three years of litigation, Robert, Dorice, Josefina, and every other renter or property owner in the city can breathe a sigh of relief. The age of warrantless inspections in Zion is over. And with IJ’s ongoing challenges to rental inspection schemes in Orange City, Iowa, and Pottstown, Pennsylvania, we’re ready to continue to fight until all Americans know that same relief.
Rob Peccola is an IJ attorney.
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