Tenants Fight “Government Goldilocks”

John Kramer
John Kramer · November 18, 2002

Yuma, Ariz.—In the story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” it was a little curly-headed girl who went nosing around a home that wasn’t hers. In Yuma, Ariz., government inspectors play the part of the uninvited intruder.

Under an ordinance adopted earlier this year, the City of Yuma can force landlords to open up their rental property without obtaining consent from or even providing notice to tenants. Outraged by the City’s disregard for their rights, two tenants and their landlord have joined with the Phoenix-based Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter to file suit today in Yuma Superior Court seeking to restore their constitutional rights.

In response to the threatened lawsuit, filed this morning, and public advocacy from the IJ Arizona Chapter, the City of Yuma announced in a letter that it has suspended indefinitely the warrantless inspections and has agreed to consider amending the ordinance to require search warrants for city inspectors to enter tenants’ homes.

The right to exclude government officials from one’s home is a cornerstone of American liberty guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 2, section 8, of the Arizona Constitution. It is a right being denied those who rent their homes in Yuma’s Carver Park neighborhood.

“Those who rent rather than own their homes in Yuma’s Carver Park Neighborhood are denied an essential property right under the ordinance as it stands right now,” declared Tim Keller, a staff attorney for the IJ Arizona Chapter, which is defending the tenants and landlord for free. “Any amendments should make it clear that if the City wants to search people’s bathrooms and bedrooms it first has to ask for 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 a rental inspection ordinance earlier this year, ostensibly to protect the health and safety of those who rent their homes in Carver Park. When Patricia “Patty” Stanphill, the owner and operator of A Shady Tree RV Park and Apartments, registered her rental property with the City of Yuma’s Community Development department, she also scheduled inspections as mandated by law. However, Stanphill went a step further than the City requires by notifying her tenants of the scheduled inspections.

“I was outraged when Patty told me the City’s inspectors were planning on searching my home, and further enraged that the City never even provided me notice of its plans,” said Amber Leach, one of the tenants represented by the Institute for Justice. “I was not at home when the inspector showed up, and if Patty had not refused to let him in I never would have known a government employee had been poking his head under my sink.”

“The law is clear that a landlord may not consent to a search on behalf of a tenant,” Keller explained. ?We hope that the City of Yuma will rewrite its ordinance to respect its citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights.?

The IJ Arizona Chapter also represents Robert Paul Jennings, another of Stanphill’s tenants who objected to the inspections. Jennings is a disabled veteran of the Korean War, honored with the Purple Heart for his service to his country.