Renters’ Rights Protected:
Arlington, Va.—The Georgia Supreme Court earlier this month [June 12th] declined to review a Marietta, Ga., rental-housing inspection ordinance and the City’s deadline to file a motion for reconsideration has expired, allowing a victory for renters and landlords at the Georgia Court of Appeals to stand. As a result, the City of Marietta cannot require housing inspections without obtaining either consent of the renter or a warrant issued for probable cause.
The City of Marietta enacted its rental-housing inspection ordinance in 2004, requiring landlords to obtain “rental licenses” for all rental properties. To obtain a license, landlords had to hire and pay City-approved “rental housing inspectors” to inspect and certify that properties were in compliance with all housing codes. Nothing in the ordinance, however, required the landlord or the City to obtain the tenant’s consent before conducting the intrusive inspection. Yet, without inspection, no rental license would be issued, and the City Manager could order the property to be vacated. Residents who exercised their constitutional—and statutory—right to refuse a warrantless inspection, therefore, risked potential eviction.
To vindicate renters’ rights, the Institute for Justice and local attorney Charles J. Mace challenged the ordinance. Their challenge was consolidated with two cases filed by local landlords.
In May 2004, the Superior Court of Cobb County issued a temporary restraining order preventing further inspections. In October 2005, Judge J. Stephen Schuster of the Superior Court of Cobb County held that the inspection scheme violated a state statutory prohibition against requiring housing inspections without a warrant. Neither decision reached the constitutional issues raised by the ordinance. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision on March 16, 2006, and the City subsequently filed a petition of certiorari with the Georgia Supreme Court, which this week declined to review the case.
Valerie Bayham, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice, who argued the constitutional issues on behalf of tenants, said, “In Georgia, those who rent are now as secure in their homes as homeowners are in theirs. With the case closed, Marietta has no choice but to abide by one of our nation’s bedrock principles—the government cannot enter your home without either your permission or a warrant.”
The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit public interest law firm that successfully challenged warrantless administrative searches in Park Forest, Ill. IJ litigates to secure economic liberty, school choice, private property rights, freedom of speech and other vital individual liberties and to restore constitutional limits on the power of government. The Institute was founded in September 1991.