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Red Wing’s rental property inspection ordinance challenged

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By Dawn Schuett

schuett@postbulletin.com

RED WING — A group of landlords and tenants in Red Wing is challenging the legality of a city ordinance that requires inspections of rental homes.

A civil rights complaint against the city of Red Wing was filed Wednesday in Goodhue District Court by the Institute for Justice, Minnesota Chapter, on behalf of 13 landlords and tenants.

The lawsuit refers to the rental inspection ordinance, adopted by Red Wing officials in February 2005 as part of its Rental Dwelling Licensing Code, as unconstitutional. In filing the suit, the tenants and landlords seek to stop the city from enforcing the ordinance and seek to defend their "state and federal constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable government searches," the complaint states.

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Under the city code, inspections of rental properties within the city limits are mandatory when a landlord applies for an operating license.

In December 2005, in an effort to establish a registry of rental properties and landlords, the city started requiring owners of rental properties to apply for temporary permits. The city also required that rental properties be inspected as a condition of the temporary permit.

If landlords don’t agree to a mandatory inspection or don’t arrange for their tenants’ consent, the city could revoke or refuse to issue the operating license, according to the complaint. Tenants who refuse to consent to an inspection could be evicted since the landlord would be unable to legally rent to them.

"In short, Red Wing’s rental inspection regime uses a regulatory power to force landlords and tenants to submit to intrusive searches of their private property regardless of whether a warrant is obtained," the complaint states.

The government needs voluntary consent or a valid search warrant to get into a private home constitutionally, according to the complaint. "Renting in Red Wing cannot require landlords and tenants to forfeit this freedom."

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