A new federal lawsuit has been filed against Highland, California, alleging the city is forcing rental property owners and tenants both to volunteer for searches and inspections – or face penalties.
According to the filings from the Pacific Legal Foundation, at issue are the city’s “coercive” tactics in implementing a program for overseeing rental units.
“Instead of simply responding where there have been complaints about code violations, the city adopted the goal of aggressively inspecting all 4,800 rentals within city limits, whether or not there have been complaints,” the organization explained.
“To cut corners in this overwhelming task, officials are attempting to evade the Fourth Amendment requirement for obtaining administrative warrants to conduct inspections. Instead of going to a court and showing cause to receive such permission, the city is attempting to bully property owners and tenants into allowing inspectors in without a warrant.”
The case comes on behalf of Karl Trautwein and tenants in his rental properties.
He owns several homes and “takes pride in maintaining them to a high standard and keeping tenants satisfied, and he objects to baseless, uncalled-for intrusions by government bureaucrats,” the legal team explained.
But when he and the tenants in one of his rental homes in Highland refused an open-ended inspection of the property, the city issued a threat. Trautwein was charged a “re-inspection fee” and informed his rental license would not be renewed if he continued to refuse to allow a warrantless entry.
“The Fourth Amendment is a core constitutional protection for privacy and property rights,” said PLF attorney Wencong Fa. “The city of Highland is trying to strong-arm Mr. Trautwein and his tenants into surrendering this precious constitutional right, by holding Mr. Trautwein’s rental license hostage. Mr. Trautwein is being hit with what the law calls an ‘unconstitutional condition’ – either he and his tenants give up their Fourth Amendment protection from warrantless government invasion of their property, or Mr. Trautwein’s license to rent will not be granted.”
Fa said, “As our lawsuit points out, government cannot confront anyone with a false choice of this kind, which coerces them out of constitutional freedoms.”
Trautwein, in a statement released through his legal representatives, said, “With its crusade to inspect all rental properties, even those like mine without any tenant complaints, the city is wasting its resources, and harassing law-abiding people. Ironically, this is the kind of regulatory overkill that can reduce the supply of rental housing by causing conscientious and hard-working property owners to decide it’s not worth it.”
He continued, “Privacy means no one can come inside your residence unless you invite them in. Cities have no business forcing their way into people’s homes. The Constitution provides a way for government to enter a home – by convincing a judge to issue a warrant based on probable cause. Highland wants to avoid the inconvenience of that constitutional requirement.”
See a video about the looming fight:
Trautwein said, “The rental business is like any other business. If a business does not take care of its customers, they won’t be in business. I take care of my residents by properly maintaining my properties. If I don’t, they will move somewhere else. So violating the privacy rights of my residents without probable cause is as unnecessary as it is wrong. My tenants are adults. They don’t need a government agency to tell them when something is wrong at the house. My tenants are smart enough to know when there is a problem. All they need to do is give me a call and it is taken care of.”
The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.