Do government inspectors have the authority to enter a rented home or apartment without the owner's consent to a search?
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that they do. The issue is likely to be appealed next to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The case arose in Red Wing, which initiated a rental inspection program in 2005 after city officials became concerned about maintenance problems, as well as housing and building code violations. To address the concerns, the city passed an ordinance requiring inspection of rental property.
If a landlord does not give consent for an inspection, the ordinance allows the city to seek a warrant from an administrative law judge.
Property rights advocates challenged the ordinance in court. But the appeals court upheld it, noting that it limits inspections to the specific purpose of detecting code violations. The ordinance does not give inspectors roving permission to open drawers or containers, unless the tenant consents.
In fact, disclosure by the inspectors of the results of a search to law enforcement is generally not permitted. There are certain exceptions to this rule, however, such as for meth lab abatement or the mistreatment of vulnerable persons.
Red Wing is far from the only municipality in Minnesota with this type of rental inspection ordinance. Several other local governments have similar ordinances.
If the Minnesota Supreme Court takes the Red Wing case, the legal arguments will be replayed again. The municipal governments say these are only routine inspections. But opponents say the inspections are an infringement on property rights and unjustified searches.
Source: "Minn. Court of Appeals upholds rental-inspection law," StarTribune, Randy Furst, 6-11-12