HIGHLAND, CA; May 30, 2017: Prodded by a Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) lawsuit, the City of Highland has rescinded its unconstitutional scheme that attempted to coerce landlords and tenants into allowing government to inspect their rental homes without a warrant.
Therefore, in response to the repeal of that policy, PLF has just moved to dismiss its lawsuit against the city.
“It is gratifying that our lawsuit achieved its goal — forcing Highland to stop violating the Fourth Amendment by pressuring landlords and tenants into allowing warrantless government snooping on their property,” said PLF Senior Attorney Meriem Hubbard. “Highland’s coercive policy was so outrageous — and our constitutional case against it was so powerful — that the mere filing of our lawsuit eventually caused the city to abandon the scheme.”
PLF was challenging the city’s sweeping policy that called for government inspections of all residential rental property, by coercion if necessary. Instead of simply responding where there were complaints about code violations, the city decided to inspect all 4,800 rentals even without demonstrated cause. To cut corners, officials attempted to pressure owners and tenants into allowing inspections without a warrant. Specifically, the city threatened to withhold rental permits if the owners and tenants wouldn’t agree to warrantless searches.
In PLF’s civil rights lawsuit, filed in federal court last July, PLF attorneys represented property owner Karl Trautwein and the tenants in one of his rental homes. The city had attempted to force them to agree to an open-ended search of their home, even though there were no complaints or evidence of problems at the property.
Now, in response to PLF’s lawsuit, the city has withdrawn its policy of conducting unjustified government inspections, and replaced it with a new policy whereby owners will self-inspect their units. They must self-inspect one initial time, and thereafter only if there are changes in their annual rental-license application.
“My federal lawsuit has caused the City of Highland to shut down its unconstitutional interior inspection program,” said Karl Trautwein. “Tenants in Highland will no longer have strangers violating their privacy. Landlords in Highland will no longer be subjected to unreasonable searches of their property. Highland’s limited code enforcement resources can focus on real problem cases. This is a great victory for all — landlords, tenants, and the city. Mandatory searches of rental interiors are never necessary. Existing code enforcement and free market mechanisms already address any health and safety issues.
“I am grateful to Pacific Legal Foundation for working with me to send a message to all cities that they have a duty to bring their code enforcement programs into compliance with the Constitution,” he said.
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts across the country. PLF represents all clients free of charge.