Red Wing, Minn.—On Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear an important property rights case examining when citizens may challenge rental inspection laws that cities are actively enforcing against them. The case, which arises out of Red Wing but which will have statewide implications, is expected to decide if tenants and landlords must wait until a government official is literally knocking at their door before they may challenge the constitutionality of inspection laws. The state Supreme Court is expected to hear the case this coming spring.
If the Minnesota Supreme Court rules in favor of the landlords and tenants, they will then be allowed to return to district court and there challenge the constitutionality of Red Wing’s law.
“It is incredibly unjust to require citizens to fight off a potentially endless series of attempts by the city to get into their homes and properties, without ever allowing them the opportunity to challenge the underlying inspection program, even if it is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, which is defending the property owners and tenants in this case. “These tenants and landlords have already fought off three separate attempts by the city of Red Wing to get into their homes and properties. It’s time for the courts to allow them to prove the law is unconstitutional once and for all.”
This controversy between the city of Red Wing and the tenants and landlords has been raging since 2006, when the city first enacted an ordinance requiring it to inspect all rental homes in the city—even when there is no apparent code violation or tenant complaint—and later authorizing it to seek administrative warrants when anyone refuses the inspections. Since then, the city has relentlessly sought to enter the homes and properties of those challenging the law, including submitting three warrant applications to the district court. Three times the city asked for warrants to enter the property, and three times the courts refused to grant them that power. The landlords and tenants have opposed each search, refused consent and—because the courts have so far refused to hear legal arguments that call the inspection law into question—have been forced to go to court each time to defend themselves against the warrant applications and the unreasonable searches sought by the city.
The case has been dismissed on technical grounds called “standing.” The lower courts concluded—implausibly—that neither the landlords nor tenants were in imminent danger of having their rights violated by the city, giving them no “standing” to sue.
IJ Minnesota Chapter Staff Attorney Jason Adkins said, “The lower courts slammed the courthouse door in the face of citizens trying to protect their rights, and the rights of others in the community. Those decisions were incorrect from a legal standpoint, as well as unjust. People have the right to know whether laws passed and enforced by cities are constitutional. That is what the upcoming argument before the Minnesota Supreme Court is all about.”