Tenants Win Battle to Stop Government Abuse

John Kramer
John Kramer · March 26, 2003

Yuma, Ariz.—Now that the City of Yuma has acquiesced to the demands of a lawsuit filed by tenants challenging the City’s rental inspection ordinance, a Yuma Superior Court judge accepted a stipulation to dismiss the suit. The challenged ordinance forced landlords to open up their rental property to government inspectors without the consent of or notification to tenants.

The lawsuit, filed by the Institute for Justice in November 2002, resulted in the immediate suspension of the warrantless inspections by Yuma officials and an announcement that the City would consider amending the ordinance to require search warrants before City inspectors could enter tenants’ rental homes. After negotiating legal safeguards acceptable to the tenants represented by IJ, including tenant consent provisions and a warrant requirement, Yuma’s City Council amended its ordinance effective March 19.

“The right to exclude unwanted government officials from one’s home is a fundamental American birthright guaranteed by the U.S. and Arizona constitutions,” declared Tim Keller, a staff attorney for the IJ Arizona Chapter, which represented the tenants for free. “Those who rent rather than own their homes in Yuma’s Carver Park Neighborhood now enjoy the full protections of the Constitution. The amended ordinance makes it clear that if the City wants to search rental homes it first has to ask for the tenant’s consent, and if consent is denied the City must then obtain a search warrant based on a reasonable belief that some law is being violated.”

The City of Yuma adopted the rental inspection ordinance last year ostensibly to protect the health and safety of those who rent their homes in Yuma’s historic Carver Park area. Patricia Stanphill, owner and operator of A Shady Tree RV Park and Apartments, registered her rental property with the City and scheduled inspections as mandated by law. However, Stanphill went further than required by law and notified her tenants of the scheduled inspections. Outraged by the City’s disregard for their rights, two tenants joined with Stanphill and the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter to file suit to vindicate their constitutional rights.