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Mandatory Warrantless Rental Inspections Inspire Seattle Lawsuit

Institute for Justice to city: Show probable cause, guys.

Warrant doormatInstitute for JusticeIn an alleged effort to root out slumlords, some cities treat renters as though they don't have any rights, forcing residents to allow government officials in for mandatory warrantless "inspections" to make sure homes are up to code.

The lawyers at the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm, have been trying to fight these inspections for years as unconstitutional violations of the Fourth Amendment. This week they've filed a class-action complaint against the city of Seattle that attempts to put a stop to its inspection program.

According to their lawsuit, Seattle launched an inspection program in 2015 that requires landlords to register rental properties with the city. The city then randomly chooses 10 percent of the rental properties to inspect each year. This includes inhabited apartments and houses. The rental inspections are very thorough, allowing searches of the entire premises and therefore mandating that the people living there allow strangers in to look over their stuff.

In July, according to the lawsuit, a group of renters sharing a home wrote city officials telling them that they do not consent to a search of their property. The owner of the home also wrote to let the city know that she was respecting her tenants' wishes. The city responded that if the landlord refused to let the inspectors in, she faced penalties of $150 a day for the first 10 days, and then $500 a day afterward. Seattle did not even respond to the letter from the tenants.

The Institute for Justice is now representing both tenants and landlords in these cases to try to stop unwarranted inspections under the city's law, arguing that it violates the privacy provisions of the Washington Constitution.

"When a tenant objects and says they don't feel comfortable, there should be a process where the city goes and seeks a warrant," Institute for Justice Attorney Rob Peccola tells Reason. "Instead the City of Seattle has put into place a policy of strong-arming landlords to allow access. These kinds of searches would never be countenanced over a homeowner's objections."

The Institute for Justice wants the city to have to show probable cause that there are code violations within somebody's home before it can demand access. The group is asking for Seattle's inspection system to be declared unconstitutional and for an injunction to be put in place stopping warrantless searches without a tenant's consent.

This suit has been filed under Washington's Constitution rather than under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the state has additional privacy protections that are a little broader, particularly given the U.S. Supreme Court's willingness to allow exceptions for "administrative searches" for public safety reasons.

It was actually under Washington's Constitution in 2016 that another group of property-rights-protecting lawyers, the Pacific Legal Foundation, stopped Seattle from snooping through people's trash to make sure they were separating out their food waste. The Pacific Legal Foundation forced a stop to that practice for the same reason—no warrants.

Read the Institute for Justice's complaint here and read more about the case here.

Photo Credit: Institute for Justice

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  • ||

    Seattle is stupid, so I hope it costs them millions of dollars to lose this suit.

  • Johnimo||

    They're not "stupid." They're evil, thinking they must be the "big brother" watching all we do to make sure we're "good" little citizens. It's the opposite of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and "innocent until proven guilty." The city of Seattle thinks all the renters and landlords are "guilty" until they prove to the city that they are -- at least temporarily -- innocent.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    The only warrantless inspections to be allowed are at the discretion of the landlord per the written terms of the lease contract. Period.

  • BYODB||


    In an alleged effort to root out slumlords, some cities treat renters as though they don't have any rights, forcing residents to allow government officials in for mandatory warrantless "inspections" to make sure homes are up to code.


    I'm sure after the first few men from the government were shot while trespassing the practice would end pretty quick.


    Haha, just kidding! SWAT would blow up your rental from a mile away using a drone before they'd let you exercise a constitutional right.

  • BYODB||


    The Institute for Justice is now representing both tenants and landlords in these cases to try to stop unwarranted inspections under the city's law, arguing that it violates the privacy provisions of the Washington Constitution.

    Never mind that it violates the bill of rights of the entire United States, I suppose, but I imagine they're saving that for the inevitable appeal after Seattle tells them they have no rights.

    Remember when the left thought highly of civil rights? Boy, they sure became New Puritans shockingly fast after rebelling to get rid of the Old Puritans.

  • BYODB||


    This suit has been filed under Washington's Constitution rather than under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the state has additional privacy protections that are a little broader, particularly given the U.S. Supreme Court's willingness to allow exceptions for "administrative searches" for public safety reasons.

    *sigh* I should read the article, huh?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I read about this sort of thing in the Chicago projects, years ago.

  • Longtobefree||

    Nah - never read the article, it will affect the way you comment

  • Rich||

    Seattle launched an inspection program in 2015 that requires landlords to register rental properties with the city. The city then randomly chooses 10 percent of the rental properties to inspect each year.

    Seattle should launch an inspection program that requires city council members to register their private parts with the city. The city then randomly chooses 10 percent to inspect each year.

    If it might help save just one council member's life, isn't Seattle obligated to do it?

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    And not by a doctor whose got Trump hands, a doctor with some real meat hooks that has an ax to grind against city hall and a bit of an alcohol problem. Only the best for our politicians.

  • Rich||

    "Does *this* hurt? How about *now*?!"

  • Sevo||

    LEOs have never begun to make my life as miserable as one bureaucrat can do.

  • End Child Unemployment||

    Seattle is rapidly going full progressive retard and it scares the hell out of me. I moved to Seattle in 2008 and it felt mostly culturally liberal economically libertarian-ish. Every year Seattle feels like it is getting deeper blue. I went to a friendsgiving where going around the table to state thanks, a couple people said they "were so glad they were smart enough to get their news someplace smarter than Faux News". The desire for a state based solution to every problem grows more and more.

    I used to say "people think they like a bad policy, but will change their minds once they experience the ill effects for a few years". I don't think that's true anymore for progressive leftists. San Francisco has been going as hard at progressive statist policies for what, 30 years? But they'd rather pay $3,000 for a studio apartment there than allow any development of new apartments. As hard as they go at full retard, they have not been able to strangle off the golden tech goose. I worry Seattle is going the same way.

    I probably should just stop reading the news for a while.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Seattle is rapidly going full progressive retard and it scares the hell out of me

    Already done and gone.

  • BYODB||


    I used to say "people think they like a bad policy, but will change their minds once they experience the ill effects for a few years". I don't think that's true anymore for progressive leftists.'

    I think you're right, and it's usually because they can still point to one or two land owners and/or capitalists that haven't been driven out yet as the reason for all their woes. After all those are gone, then they can point at the Jews white people and just blame them.

    We're witnessing first hand how a people can be brought to totalitarianism, and even welcome it when it arrives. Those historical examples were warnings, but we did not heed them.

  • Longtobefree||

    Go to uhaul.com

  • Merl3noir||

    "I used to say "people think they like a bad policy, but will change their minds once they experience the ill effects for a few years". I don't think that's true anymore for progressive leftists."

    Never was all that true. People have an incredible capacity to find an excuse for why their favored policies don't work. It's really only after you run out of other people to blame for your failed ideas that people begin the process of excepting that they were wrong.

  • rocks||

    I was in Seattle ten years before that and it was already far left then. Can't imaging anyone thinking it felt deconomically libertarian-ish in 2008. Maybe only if you moved from SF or NYC

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It was always left, but it was more liberal left. Now it resembles nothing of the sort. It's reactionary progressive left.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Huh, interesting because the local media-sphere kind of suggests that the problem isn't too much inspectin', it's that the law isn't inspecty enough...

    Yet the city's current rules do not mandate inspectors search a whole building after finding violations in a few apartments. It's at the discretion of the city's Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) whether to inspect more units in the same building. And it's rare for SDCI to use that discretion. According to Tallent, SDCI has required additional inspections three times since 2014.

    Maykovich argues further inspections should be required—not optional—when serious violations are found. "When one unit fails—in particular when it fails in the way these units should fail—that signals broader problems with the apartment [building]," she says.
  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    when it fails in the way these units should fail

    You can almost hear the pleading in his voice, how much he wants inspections to fail, tenants be damned, because he'd love nothing more than to throw a few landlords in jail and tear down a few apartment builds that he can replace with concrete realist structures.

  • End Child Unemployment||

    God these people are so fucking stupid.
    With the $880 rent and easy commute to his construction job, Sanchez says he can't afford to give up this place.
    .......
    For Angeles and Sanchez, such policies could've prevented their current abysmal living situation.

    IF their place is really that run down and IF the landlord were forced to update everything and get it nice, he would go and get market rent. The ONLY reason they can rent something larger than 200 sq ft for under $1,200 is because it is so run down and the landlord would rather take the lower rent and not pay to fix it.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The ONLY reason they can rent something larger than 200 sq ft for under $1,200 is because it is so run down and the landlord would rather take the lower rent and not pay to fix it.

    There is a program where the renter gets assistance once the price goes too high. There's a government answer for everything.

  • Ron||

    I hope the suit is successfull since the State of California has put into the building code a similar requirement to allow inspections at any time the building dept feels like it. I don't know if they have implemented it but since it will be a part of getting a building permit it will be considered an agreement to allow, an agreement that renters never agreed to.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's tenant's rights organizations that are pushing for these laws, so I'm not real sure how this is going to play out.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    And I think the city should be free to search the homes of everybody who is a member of such tenant's rights organizations, since presumably they think it's a good idea and consent.

  • Merl3noir||

    Would not mater if it is successful or not since they are arguing it under Washington State laws. It would only effect California, if they were fighting it under Federal laws. So Californian's will need to find their own cases to fight their stupid laws.

    Living in NY, the one thing I like is that many state regulations are optional county by county. As a result, I am spared some of the stupidity that the larger cities demand of the state. When I've gone to get building permits, the local inspector tells me, be sure to get your electrical inspected. And remember water runs down hill. Beyond that, he'd rather not be disturbed.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Warrants is so fascist.
    You don't see the enlightened rulers like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao or Castro using warrants for search now do you?
    Besides, warrants are also racist not to mention homophobic, capitalist and misogynist in nature as is freedom.
    We need to get with the times and allow our obvious betters the freedom to do with us as we please since we are so ignorant and useless as any good progressive will tell you.
    Only through oppression and socialist slavery will we be able to enjoy the freedoms that totalitarianism offers.

  • Johnimo||

    Thank you so much, Uncle Jay. You're words keep us on the track to total happiness and love. When we are free from the responsibilities of freedom, our lives will be come perfected as we strive to serve our fellow citizens.

  • LDRider||

    I wonder how much longer before hotels/motels/online rentals fall under this.

    "Say there, xe, that's a mighty fine Motel 6 you got there, be a shame to lose it..."

  • Enemy of the State||

    The Democratic Peoples Republic of Seattle...

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Trump should put a Seattle under martial law. It would be hilarious to watch those assholes then.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Why would trump have to do that when Murray essentially already did.

    In a state of emergency, the mayor gains authority for drastic actions such as imposing curfews and prohibiting liquor sales, Murray spokesman Viet Shelton said.

    Murray doesn't plan to take any actions like that, but he may use his emergency authority to make sure homeless families with children are housed, he said.
  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Trump turning the tables on their totalitarian tyranny would be hilarious. It wouldn t be fun for the, if HE were calling the shots.

  • Don't look at me!||

    meesa propose that the senate give immediately emergency powers to the supreme chancellor.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Just in Seattle. For the yucks.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Looks like we're gonna need to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot so petty bureaucrats can legally violate the rights of tenants. We'll call it The Protecting Tenants Rights Amendment.

  • Alan@.4||

    This is not the only matter that the city should be hauled before the courts over.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Seriously, thanks to Reason for the article and a huge thanks to IJ once again. These guys are awesome.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    What's a not-gay way to ask IJ to go camping with me...?

  • Gene Ralno||

    Seattle's on the brink of precipitating civil disobedience, probably hostile and possibly armed. City officials exhibit symptoms of a serious mental derangement. Who the bleep does Durkan think she is?!! She could be lassoed and dragged from city hall, tarred and feathered, and chased out of town. These days, it would be simple to masquerade as an antifa mob and nobody would know whodunnit. But she knows that's not what conservatives do and those violated probably don't have the wherewithal to resist. Perhaps Seattle deserves this piece of democracy for electing her. Hopefully, the city will be ordered to pay prohibitive damages when they lose their lawsuit.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    Glanced at the headline, read it as "Mandatory Warrantless Rectal Inspections Inspire Seattle Lawsuit" and thought "Seattle? Sounds about right."

  • Still Curmudgeoned (Nunya)||

    Seems a bit anal.

  • retiredfire||

    Hmmmm...I wonder if Seattle has rent control.
    You see, when landlords know they can't recover the costs of repairs, by raising the rent, they let the property get run down, eventually leading to the building being abandoned. Places that long ago instituted rent control have lots of them.
    This is your typical proggie response to that - "we will force those evil landlords to have to maintain their money-losing apartments".
    Don't worry, tenants, the city is on your side and will ignore any law-breaking you might exhibit. This is all about keeping the inevitable consequences of rent control at bay. Isn't it worth giving up a little privacy to make that happen?

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Condo conversions are next.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Why doesn't the US do what those progressive European nations do? In many of them, the renter is responsible for maintenance. You rent a place? You have to paint it, you have to repair leaks, you have to keep it bug free, you have to repair electrical problems. If you don't, you'll be legally liable for the loss of value of the place.

  • Skyhawk||

    "In 1967 the United States Supreme Court addressed this issue and confirmed the right to refuse non-emergency inspections. In Camara v. Municipal Court of San Francisco, the Court ruled that a San Francisco housing ordinance which allowed warrantless inspections in non-emergency situations was unconstitutional and upheld the right of tenants to refuse an inspection."
    Seems like it's already been adjudicated.

  • Ivaar||

    Irvine (CA) code enforcement inspector snicked to the property under the cover (pretending to be police inspector)
    Being guided/assisted/supported by real police officer.
    She attempted to enter into tenants room without permission.
    Soon after that I received pre-citation notice with all those $100/h - $500/h scaring fees.

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