ZION, Ill.—Last Friday, a judge ratified a consent decree which mandates that the city of Zion, Illinois, will no longer punish renters or landlords who refuse to open their doors to warrantless rental inspections. The consent decree is the conclusion of a lawsuit brought on behalf of Zion landlord Josefina Lozano and her tenants Dorice and Robert Pierce by the Institute for Justice (IJ) challenging the city’s prior rental inspection ordinance.
“This consent decree is a massive victory for the basic privacy rights and property rights of renters and landlords in Zion,” said IJ Attorney Rob Peccola. “If the government wants to pry into your personal spaces, revealing intimate details about your life, it should have to get a warrant.”
Under Zion’s old rental inspection law, individuals were required to open their doors to rental inspectors who could snoop around their homes without a warrant. If they refused to let city officials in or asked them to get a warrant, they were subject to daily fines of up to $750, and the city had a track record of running those fines up into astonishing six-figure sums.
“These massive fines were absolutely crippling for Zion residents who simply wanted to stand up for their constitutional rights,” said IJ Attorney John Wrench.
In April of this year, the Zion City Council unanimously agreed to amend its rental inspection law, ending the practice of fining landlords if they refused a warrantless rental inspection. Today’s consent decree ensures that the city will never again fine individuals who refuse inspections and ensures that landlords and tenants have a right to decline opening their doors to city officials without a warrant.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that the city can no longer force my tenants into the unfortunate choice between either opening their doors for intrusive inspections or facing massive fines,” said Josefina.
Dorice and Robert have lived in the home they rent from Josefina since 2000.
“Dorice and I are all law-abiding citizens who simply want to feel secure in our own home and today’s news guarantees that will be the case,” said Robert. “We hope this type of privacy violation never happens to anyone else in Zion.”
Zion will be required to keep the consent decree published on its website for at least a year, ensuring that landlords and tenants in the city understand they have the right to decline inspection or demand city officials get a warrant.
The lawsuit began in 2019 when Zion officials attempted to conduct warrantless rental inspections at several properties owned by Josefina. When Dorice and Robert refused the inspection, Zion officials threatened Josefina with astronomical fines that could total in the six figures.
“This victory ensures that renters don’t lose their Fourth Amendment rights just because they lease rather than own their homes,” said IJ President and Chief Counsel Scott Bullock. “As part of our Project on the Fourth Amendment, the Institute for Justice ensures that all property holders are protected from unwarranted government intrusion.”