A federal judge has delivered a blow to an Illinois city’s agenda to spy on its residents through a mandatory inspection of their rental properties, refusing to dismiss the case as officials in the city of Zion had wanted.
At issue is an “inspection” program created by the city that demands that inspectors be allowed to enter the rental homes of residents “without cause or their consent,” in apparently violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The city has threatened landlords with fines of $750 per day if a tenant declines to allow city officials to enter and inspect as they wish.
Josefina Lazono and Robert and Dorece Pierce, a landlord and two tenants, had sued the city over the violation of constitutional privacy protections, and the city now has failed to get the case thrown out.
“Your home is your castle, and if the government wants to look through it, it must obtain a warrant,” explained Rob Peccola, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, which is working on the case. “We are thrilled that the court saw through Zion’s attempt to get rid of this lawsuit.”
Now the lawsuit will move on to discovery, and the tenants will seek a judgment from the court declaring Zion’s inspection program unconstitutional.
The ruling came from Judge John F. Kness in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois.
The Pierces, who have rented their apartment home since 2000, objected to the inspection demand and told the city it would need a warrant to enter their home. Zion ignored them.
The city then threatened the landlord, and the lawsuit was filed. Zion tried to get the case thrown out by claiming the tenants challenging the ordinance lacked standing to sue, even though they had been threatened with warrantless searches, because the inspections have not been conducted yet. The city argued that because of this, the plaintiffs suffered no injury.
The IJ reported, “This is a dangerous argument because it would force anyone challenging a violation of their rights to first suffer the violation before they can sue to stop it.”
And the judge pointed out, “at any point, the city could choose to bypass the administrative warrant and move directly to levy compounding fees on plaintiffs. With regard to standing, the administrative warrant option is a chimera that fails to eliminate plaintiffs’ ‘substantial risk’ of injury.”
The IJ explained, “In 2015, when the city passed its rental inspection ordinance, the mayor at that time blamed the city’s poor financial health on an ‘overabundance of non-owner-occupied rental property.’ Renters, he asserted, ‘often do not take care of their property like homeowners do, so this ordinance targets rentals only.’ But individuals’ constitutional right to privacy in their home does not depend on government preferences for homeowners over renters.”
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