Orange City, Iowa—A foundation of the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions is that your home is sacred. Nobody should be forced to let a stranger into their home for no good reason, and, according to both constitutions, you cannot be. But that has not stopped Orange City from trying to. This February, amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, Orange City sent letters to property owners demanding that they register their rental properties for government officials to search. Orange City’s ordinance permits the city to search tenants’ homes without their consent. A coalition of tenants and landlords objected to these inspections in April, stating their constitutional rights were being violated. Orange City defiantly pressed forward in May, ignoring their objections. That led the coalition to file a lawsuit Wednesday, alongside the Institute for Justice (IJ), constitutionally challenging the city’s rental inspections, which are carried out under so-called “administrative warrants.”
“An administrative warrant is not the same as a traditional search warrant—the government doesn’t need to suspect you of any wrongdoing to get an administrative warrant and enter your home without your permission,” said IJ Attorney Rob Peccola. “The home can contain the most private information about a person or family, including their religious, political and medical information. Iowans do not want government officials going through their homes for no good reason.”
One of those Iowans is Erika Nordyke, who lives with her fiancé Bryan Singer. Erika works at Hope Haven, a facility in Orange City that helps disabled individuals become more independent and fulfilled. Erika said she does not feel safe or comfortable letting a stranger into her house, particularly when she is alone.
“I don’t feel comfortable with a stranger coming inside my house and seeing our lifestyle,” said Erika. “I might not have my fiancé here. It’s kind of a scary situation letting a stranger inside.”
Forced rental inspections are spreading like wildfire in Iowa. State law requires that cities with populations of 15,000 or more adopt a “program for regular rental inspections.” Orange City has a population of just over 6,000 but nevertheless passed a rental registration and inspection law in February 2021.
The lawsuit alleges that Orange City’s rental inspection program violates Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution, which guarantees the right to keep the government from unreasonably intruding upon private property. More broadly, the lawsuit asserts that the Iowa Constitution provides greater search and seizure protections than the federal Constitution as it has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, which narrowly carved out an exception in the 1967 case Camara v. Municipal Court.
“The Iowa Constitution is clear: If the government wants to enter your home, it should only be able to get a warrant if it provides real evidence that something is wrong inside,” said IJ Attorney John Wrench. “Orange City can’t use an administrative warrant to force its way into Iowans’ homes without even suspicion that anything is wrong.”
Erika’s landlord, Josh Dykstra, was stunned that these inspections would ever be considered by the city.
“It’s unconstitutional for the government to search through your property without a reason,” Josh said. “A cop cannot enter a property without a warrant. What makes city officials think they can barge in when police officers cannot?”
Amanda Wink, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, emphasized that the ordinance treats renters as second-class citizens.
“Me renting a house is no different than owning a house. My privacy shouldn’t be any less important,” Amanda said.
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 regimes of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Zion, Illinois, 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.