Rental licensing rules in cities across Minnesota survived a legal challenge Tuesday, when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that routine inspections do not infringe on tenant privacy rights.

The case had attracted the interest of prominent libertarian, and privacy- and tenant-rights groups, testing the foundations of how cities regulate rental properties. It was filed on behalf of two Golden Valley landlords and their tenants, who refused an inspection of their duplex apartment.

Anthony Sanders, who represented the plaintiffs on behalf of the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based law firm, said renters should enjoy similar privacy as homeowners.

“It’s just as much their home as if it’s an owner-occupied place, and they have the right whether or not to let the city in,” Sanders said.

At issue was whether a city must show probable cause of a housing violation to obtain an administrative warrant to enter a property, which cities seek if they are denied routine entry. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that it wasn’t necessary, but the plaintiffs argued that the Minnesota Constitution imposes a higher standard.

The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, with dissents from Associate Justices G. Barry Anderson and David Stras. In the majority opinion, Associate Justice David Lillehaug said imposing that high standard for obtaining a warrant could prove unsafe.

“By [the dissent’s] reasoning, a warrant supported by individualized suspicion would be required for most routine, unconsented-to administrative inspections focused on preventing contamination, abuse, injuries, disease, and disaster,” Lillehaug wrote. “This would endanger public health and safety.”

In his dissent, Anderson said the city could pursue less-intrusive inspections before the tenant moves in or from the exterior of the property.

“It is important to ensure that rental units do not contain dangers that might threaten those living in and around the units,” Anderson wrote in his dissent. “But the City’s interest does not outweigh the significant privacy intrusion of the search …”

Sanders said they do not intend to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, since it focused on legal issues in the Minnesota Constitution.


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