Do Minnesota cities have a legal right to inspect rental properties without any evidence of code violations? That’s the critical question that will be answered in a case now headed to the Minnesota court of Appeals.
The case involves Jason and Jackie Wiebesick’s Golden Valley duplex. The city was requesting an inspection in order to renew the couple’s rental license. City housing inspectors were refused access after the couple’s tenants felt such a visit amounted to an invasion of privacy.
“This is about the right to be left alone,” Attorney Anthony Sanders said.
Sanders is with the Institute for Justice, which took on the couple’s case.
“The principle in this case is whether or not a government can come into your home without evidence there’s anything wrong in your home,” he said.
After the Wiebesicks refused access, the city asked a Hennepin County judge for an administrative warrant. Judge Susan Robiner denied the request. Golden Valley now hopes the Minnesota Court of Appeals will affirm its ordinance and grant the inspection when they hear the case this spring.
“What’s at stake is a simple matter of making sure we have safe housing that meets minimal standards,” Golden Valley Fire Chief John Crelly said.
Chief Crelly says inspections are needed to assure the safety of all tenants as inspections search for fire hazards and other code violations. He says the city will normally give 48 hours of notice.
“In general, there are no unannounced inspections,” Crelly said.
But the Wieiebeseck’s say such inspections are unreasonable, because the city provides on evidence of any prior wrongdoing as basis for the administrative warrant.
“What we’re trying to reaffirm is the old rights that the government cannot pass the threshold unless it has a good reason,” Sanders said.
Chief Crelly points out that not all safety violations are obvious and often catch both tenants and landlords by surprise.
Attorneys for the couple say there’s nothing to prevent a tenant or landlord from requesting an inspection.
The case will be watched closely by other municipalities because the outcome could indeed set a statewide precedent. The League of Minnesota Cities has already filed an amicus brief, supporting Golden Valley and the need for inspection access.