Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · April 8, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city leaders in Richmond Heights, Ohio, calling on them to repeal a pair of Orwellian ordinances that require all businesses and apartment complexes to install surveillance cameras at their own expense and turn over video footage to police regardless of whether police have a warrant. These ordinances are a gross violation of Americans’ civil liberties, and IJ is actively seeking to speak to business owners and apartment residents who are affected.

The Richmond Heights City Council passed an ordinance last month requiring all businesses in the city to install police-approved video surveillance systems. Every bank, restaurant, convenience store, supermarket, bar, pharmacy, and hotel (among other businesses) are subject to this ordinance. This ordinance is based on a similar mandate city leaders passed in 2021, which requires all residences with more than three rental units to install security cameras.

The two ordinances are nearly identical; both require business or apartment complex owners to install police-approved surveillance systems that meet certain technical and storage requirements. Both ordinances force owners to give police live access to their cameras if their surveillance systems have wireless capabilities, demand individuals turn over video footage to law enforcement regardless of a warrant, and give police unfettered access to perform compliance inspections. Failure to abide with any part of either ordinance could result in fines of up to $500 a day.

“With these two laws, the City Council has effectively turned Richmond Heights into a police surveillance state,” said IJ Attorney Jared McClain. “And if that weren’t bad enough, it’s forcing its residents to cover the cost of the cameras that will now blanket the city and monitor the whereabouts of anyone who lives in an apartment or shops at any business in the city.”

Richmond Heights’ ordinances violate Americans’ protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as having their property taken from the government without just compensation. By forcing businesses and apartment complexes to turn over video footage and be subject to repeated compliance inspections, the city of Richmond Heights violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the city’s ordinances run afoul of the Fifth Amendment by forcing private property owners to make permanent alterations to their property without first receiving fair compensation from the city.

For more than three decades, IJ has fought against various laws that permit government officials to conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, including challenges to rental inspection ordinances in Iowa, New York, and Pennsylvania. IJ has also contested similar video surveillance ordinances that force property owners to install cameras, including in DeKalb County, Georgia, where IJ recently convinced county officials to amend its surveillance ordinance that allowed for warrantless seizures of video footage from gas stations.

IJ is interested in hearing from business owners and apartment residents who are impacted by these ordinances. Affected parties can reach IJ at this link.