Landlords rarely are threatened with jail time for protecting their tenants' rights. But that's what's happened to landlords in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Park Forest, Illinois.
Kalamazoo doesn't seek the consent or presence of tenants while conducting inspections of rental apartments. Jerry Speedy, manager of the Emerald Park Apartments, thought that violated his tenants' constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. When inspectors came to Emerald Park in August 1994, he refused to let them enter rented apartments without tenants' written consent, and was charged with violating the city's housing code.
His tenants overwhelmingly supported his decision.
"Most of us hadn't known what the policy was. When we found out, we became very alarmed," says David Runstrom, who lives in the complex.
The county court dismissed the charges against Speedy on narrow legal grounds. (The Reason Foundation filed an amicus brief supporting Speedy's position.) But 14 tenants filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Kalamazoo's inspection policy.
Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a D.C.-based public interest law firm, is representing the Kalamazoo tenants. He's also preparing to take similar action in Park Forest, which has a similar inspection law. The Chicago suburb wants to throw landlord Rick Reinbold, renter Debra Taylor, and her 12-year-old daughter in jail, because Reinbold and Taylor refuse to allow officials to inspect Taylor's home.
Bullock is confident about the cases because "Americans believe their home is the one place where government must unquestionably respect their privacy."
And having landlords and tenants on the same side certainly doesn't hurt.