ARLINGTON, Va.—Yesterday, Judge Haaz of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County ruled and explained in a subsequent opinion that the Borough of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, must give notice to renters and landlords before an inspection of their property. Previously, the borough was not required to give any such warning and would issue search warrants in private, allowing inspectors to enter and search rental properties for housing violations. While this is a monumental win for renter privacy, it still allows for unconstitutional searches without individualized probable cause. The Institute for Justice (IJ) plans to press forward with an appeal to end the practice once and for all.
At the heart of the issue in Pottstown is a rental inspection law that forces landlords and tenants to open their properties and homes to submit to intrusive inspections. This ordinance allows the government to enter the most intimate confines of tenants’ homes—including bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and closets—in search of housing code violations, even when landlords and tenants object. Worse yet, the borough shares information about its inspection findings with law enforcement.
But Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees a heightened right to privacy in the home. To challenge this unconstitutional search, IJ teamed up with Pottstown tenants and their landlord to file a lawsuit against the government’s use of so-called administrative warrants to search the homes of ordinary people who do not want inspectors inside.
“This ruling is a move in the right direction,” said IJ Attorney Robert Peccola. “But there is more work to be done. Notice or not, the government has no right to enter someone’s home without individualized probable cause that something is wrong inside. We look forward to appealing and making that rule apply to all Pennsylvanians.”
Longtime tenant Dottie Rivera was pleased with the ruling, stating, “I am so happy that renters now have better privacy protections, and that our voices can be heard when we don’t want someone in our home.”
“I’m very thankful for the Institute for Justice in helping us out and this is a great win for the tenants of Pottstown and the state of Pennsylvania,” added Steve Camburn, Dottie’s landlord who is a plaintiff in the case. “But moving forward we hope the entire inspection ordinance is revoked so all tenants can experience their privacy rights.”
The Institute for Justice is a national nonprofit law firm dedicated to upholding individual rights.
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To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may contact Phillip Suderman, IJ’s Communications Project Manager, at [email protected] (850) 376-4110. More information on the case is available at: https://ij.org/case/pottstown-penn-rental-inspections/