Minneapolis—Red Wing, Minn., continues to play games with the rights of renters and their landlords. Rather than repeal its expansive rental housing inspection ordinance, the city for the third time is looking to amend its problematic law. On Monday, October 13, 2008, at 7 p.m., the Red Wing City Council is scheduled to review amendments to its intrusive inspection law, but the amendments it is considering should continue to give concern to renters, their landlords and anyone else who objects to essentially giving the government a second set of keys to their home.
“Red Wing’s mandatory rental inspection ordinance is unconstitutional. Instead of addressing this basic problem, Red Wing is proposing another round of changes that seem designed to lull the public into thinking that the law isn’t so bad, while allowing the city to continue to violate the rights of renters and landlords,” said Jason Adkins, a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, a public interest law firm that filed suit in 2006 to strike down the inspection law. “Red Wing is finally conceding that city housing inspectors may no longer snoop around in your drawers and medicine cabinets to look for housing code violations, but they still get to look in kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms and closets. That’s a small victory considering the city still wants to conduct inspections on rental units without any evidence of an actual threat to public safety.”
The amendments were prompted by a Goodhue County District Judge’s denial of the city’s application for an “administrative” warrant to inspect the homes and properties of IJ Minnesota Chapter’s landlord and tenant clients. In his May 2008 order and memorandum denying the warrants, Judge Timothy Blakely concluded that the rental housing code was not adequate to “deal with legitimate modern privacy concerns.”
“But unfortunately, the third time is not a charm for the Red Wing City Council and many problems with the code remain” said Lee McGrath, IJ-Minnesota’s executive director. “The city council has not learned from its two defeats in Goodhue County District Court. It’s preparing to leave in place a basically unconstitutional regime that forces ordinary citizens to allow the government into their homes against their will. It threatens the privacy of the citizens of Red Wing, and sets a dangerous example for copycat cities in Minnesota.”
Under the rental inspection code, it is easier for the government to force its way into the homes of law-abiding citizens than it is to search the home of a suspected criminal. Yet despite the brazen unconstitutionality of the ordinance, an ongoing lawsuit, and the city’s two defeats in court, Red Wing has never sought comments from any of the plaintiffs challenging the ordinance, or their attorneys at the Institute for Justice, on how to make the inspection ordinance constitutional.
Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney, said, “There are certainly ways to have a rental inspection program that doesn’t violate people’s rights, such as not forcing inspections of people’s homes unless you believe there is a specific code violation there. We would be happy to work with them if they want to craft a constitutional ordinance.”
“It’s time for the city to abandon this costly, useless, and dangerous law,” said Robert McCaughtry, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Red Wing needs to do the right thing and follow the Constitution. That’s all we’re asking here.”
“The U.S. and Minnesota constitutions prevent the government from conducting searches of homes without specific probable cause,” said Adkins. “We are confident that if Red Wing won’t abandon this law, the courts will continue to do their duty to protect Minnesotans from overzealous bureaucrats and politicians.”
Opened in 2005, IJ-MN is a nonprofit public interest law firm that advances free speech, property rights, educational choice and economic liberty. The Institute for Justice is headquartered in Arlington, Va.