Orange City Landlords and Tenants Score Major Win in Challenge to Unconstitutional Home Inspections

Institute for Justice · October 15, 2021

ORANGE CITY, Iowa—Yesterday afternoon, the Iowa District Court for Sioux County issued an opinion denying an attempt by Orange City, Iowa, to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its rental inspection ordinance. 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 tenants object. That led a coalition of tenants and landlords, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), to file a lawsuit in May challenging the city’s rental inspections for violating the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. Because of today’s ruling, the lawsuit challenging the program can proceed.

In April, the coalition of tenants and landlords objected to these inspections, stating their constitutional rights were being violated. Orange City defiantly asserted in May its intention to press forward with the inspections. In its attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, Orange City argued that the inspections have not occurred yet and that they cannot be challenged until the tenants have already had their privacy rights violated.

Chief Judge Patrick H. Tott shot down that argument in his opinion, writing: “If the Plaintiffs are required to wait until the inspection is in process, they will have little, or likely no, recourse to the Courts to prevent the injury(ies) they assert they will suffer to their privacy rights.”

“We are thrilled that the Iowa District Court recognized the strong property rights provided by the Iowa Constitution,” IJ Attorney Rob Peccola said. “Orange City should not be able to use ‘administrative warrants’ to force its way into people’s homes.”

“I think it’s great news the court’s willing to hear our case,” said Orange City landlord Josh Dykstra, a plaintiff in the case. “The government trying to impede on its own citizens is an issue that needs to be contested.”

After the Orange City residents compile a full record, there will be a decision on the merits at either summary judgment or trial. This ultimate ruling could ensure that every Iowan is free from the government coming into their home without a warrant supported by probable cause that something is wrong inside.

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. It is also challenging Granite City, Illinois, for a policy of evicting property owners for other people’s crimes. 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.

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