Minnesota Supreme Court to Rule on Unwanted Rental Home Searches

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 21, 2012

Red Wing, Minn.—In a case of immense significance to all Minnesotans’ property and privacy rights, today the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to answer a fundamental question of constitutional law: Can the government invade the most private confines of your home without any evidence that there is anything wrong?

Nine landlords and two tenants from Red Wing, Minn.—who are represented by the public interest law firm the Institute for Justice—object to the City of Red Wing’s rental inspection law. The unusual alliance of landlords and tenants sued the city to prevent government inspectors from violating their rights. They have fought the city for six years over its rental inspection law.

The law requires the city to inspect the residences of the city’s tenants—including their bedrooms and bathrooms—even if both they and their landlords object to the inspection and even if the city has no reason to believe the property is unsafe. Many cities across Minnesota—including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Rochester—have local laws like Red Wing’s that allow government officials to conduct housing inspections of all rental units in the city.

“Red Wing’s unreasonable and unconstitutional inspection program allows government inspectors to poke around in practically every nook and cranny in your home—even closets and your bathroom,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. “The Minnesota Supreme Court will now finally decide whether the program violates the protections of the Minnesota Constitution.”

The City of Red Wing has been seeking so-called “administrative warrants.” When the police want to search the home of a suspected criminal, they need “probable cause”—a specific reason to enter a home. But under Red Wing’s program, ordinary law-abiding citizens get less protection than criminals. Instead, the local government merely asserts that it has a citywide inspection program and there are some housing problems somewhere in the city. The Court of Appeals said that the Minnesota Constitution allows these searches, but now the Minnesota Supreme Court will get the final say.

The Supreme Court also granted the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota’s and the St. Paul Association of Responsible Landlords’ requests to file friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the tenants and landlords challenging the law.

Landlord Robert McCaughtry, a plaintiff in the case, is thrilled: “I’m excited that the Minnesota Supreme Court will finally have an opportunity to tell the City of Red Wing that these searches are unconstitutional.”

“The tenants and landlords in this case have demonstrated Red Wing’s program violates the right to be secure in one’s home and to be free from unreasonable searches,” said IJ Minnesota Chapter Attorney Anthony Sanders. “Whether this kind of search is even allowed under the Minnesota Constitution is an important and timely issue that the Minnesota Supreme Court has never decided. More and more cities are passing these laws, and Minnesotans need protection now from these invasive and unconstitutional searches. Our clients look forward to defending all Minnesotans’ liberty and privacy in the Minnesota Supreme Court.”



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