Arlington, Va.—A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously struck down a Marietta, Ga., rental-housing inspection ordinance, affirming that the ordinance violated a state statute by requiring inspections that could be performed without consent or without probable cause. The decision—entered on March 16, 2006—ensures that those who rent will be as secure in their homes as homeowners are in theirs. The Court did not rule on the constitutional issues raised by the ordinance.
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 right to refuse a warrantless inspection, therefore, risked potential eviction.
To vindicate renters’ rights, the Institute for Justice along with local attorney Charles J. Mace challenged the ordinance. Their challenge was consolidated with lawsuits filed by two groups of local landlords.
Valerie Bayham, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice, who argued the constitutional issues on behalf of the tenants, said, “It is one of our nation’s bedrock principles that housing inspections cannot occur without either permission of the resident or a warrant. With the Court of Appeals’ decision, Georgians are safe from unreasonable searches regardless of whether they rent or own their homes.”
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 statutory prohibition against housing inspections without a warrant. The decision of the Court of Appeals late last week affirmed Judge Schuster’s ruling.
The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit public interest law firm that successfully challenged warrantless administrative searches in Park Forest, Ill. Through strategic litigation, training, communication and outreach, the Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society. 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.