Institute for Justice · January 6, 2020

Pottstown, Penn.—This morning, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued an opinion vacating and remanding a lower court’s ruling in favor of Pottstown in a lawsuit challenging the borough’s rental inspection ordinance. This law allows the borough to enter residents’ homes without cause and without the residents’ consent. The Court also reversed the trial court’s orders denying discovery to the Pottstown residents who challenged the law. This makes sure that as the lawsuit now proceeds on remand, the residents will have a full record of how these inspections are actually conducted—and what inspectors actually do once they are inside peoples’ homes.

The Court also rejected the borough’s argument that, in order for the tenants to challenge the law, residents would have to first submit to the borough’s invasive rental inspections. After Pottstown tenants Dottie and Omar Rivera and their longtime landlord, Steve Camburn, refused to allow inspectors inside their home, Pottstown obtained administrative warrants to search inside—but with no suspicion that anything was wrong. The Borough also attempted to search the non-rental family home of Pottstown residents Thomas, Kathleen, and Rosemarie O’Connor without their consent and with no search warrant whatsoever. These brave citizens sued Pottstown with the help of the Institute for Justice (IJ).

“To require Tenants to endure the inspections before challenging the inspection requirement would render Tenants’ Article I, Section 8 privacy rights illusory,” the Court declared.

“We are thrilled that the Commonwealth Court has recognized the Pennsylvania Constitution’s strong protections of property rights,” IJ Attorney Rob Peccola said. “Pottstown’s rental inspections regime is a way to get around constitutional protections for privacy rights, and we look forward to litigating this case based on the facts on the ground.”

After the Pottstown residents compile a full record, there will be a decision on the merits at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. This ruling could ensure that every Pennsylvanian who resists a search of their home can only have the government enter with a warrant supported by probable cause that something is wrong inside.