Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The fellows over at the Daily Dish have highlighted the issue of rental safety inspections:
In the last two towns where I have lived (Burlington, VT and State College, PA) both had local laws requiring that rental units had to be inspected at regular intervals. In other words, once a year (or so) renters are legally required to allow a government employee to conduct a search for illegal [supposedly just safety-related] activity. If they catch a violation either the resident or landlord can be fined depending on who's at fault. In Burlington if you refuse them they will just come back with a warrant regardless of probable cause. In State College there is just a flat fine for not having had it done. I don't think you could invent a more straightforward violation of our 4th amendment rights than to get searched at regular intervals, without probable cause, to make sure that no one is acting illegally. I seem to be completely alone in actually caring. Am I missing something?
As a homeowner in a college town where unsavory landlords continually (and illegally) convert single family homes into mini-fraternity houses, I'm not very sympathetic to this argument (the Homevoter Hypothesis in action!). More substantively, I think the author is also wrong on the legal issues. Courts generally conceptualize regulatory sweeps as local property regulations and, as a result, give them considerable deference. Additionally, as Nicole Garnett details in her excellent book, Ordering the City, the rise of aggressive land use policies actually stems from a judicial attempt to bolster 4th Amendment -- as judges cracked down on police discretion, cities turned to property regulations (PrawsBlawg book club: here). In theory, the presence of regulatory sweeps allows cities to maintain order without involving the police. Moreover, the system of regular check-ups in State College may actually be preferable to the system we have here in Lexington, which seems completely arbitrary and ineffectual.