Federal Judge Rules Warrantless Rental Inspections Unconstitutional
PORTSMOUTH, Ohio – The Southern District of Ohio has ruled that the city of Portsmouth’s rental property inspections without a warrant were unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. Property owners had sued the city, asserting that the rental dwelling code violated their protections to due process and against unreasonable searches by forcing them to allow inspections without probable cause warrants.
U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott held as follows: “[T]he Court finds that the Portsmouth (Rental Dwelling Code) violates the Fourth Amendment insofar as it authorizes warrantless administrative inspections. It is undisputed that the (Rental Dwelling Code-)] affords no warrant procedure or other mechanism for precompliance review. . . the owners and/or tenants of rental properties in Portsmouth are thus faced with the choice of consenting to the warrantless inspection or facing criminal charges, a result the Supreme Court has expressly disavowed under the Fourth Amendment.”
Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas indicated that he would be in discussions with other city officials about the ruling and how to proceed. The original ordinance which has not been in effect since the lawsuit was filed has been amended to make the inspections voluntary.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled warrantless apartment inspections/searches illegal previously. This case could have national implications as rental property inspection ordinances that allow non-consensual and warrantless entry by housing inspectors could be interpreted by the courts as a Fourth Amendment violation.
Source: The Portsmouth Daily Times, The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.