Skip to comments.Local governments can inspect inside your private home
Posted on 07/26/2002 2:02:45 PM PDT by CFW
We get an administrative search warrant, and then they have to let us in
A move by two area municipalities to inspect the inside of residents' homes has opened Constitutional questions about how much authority local governments have to enforce zoning and building codes.
The town of Montreat, NC is considering "periodic safety inspections" of "all homes" along with a long list of other requirements for residences.
At the same time, the Hickory Daily Record reported, the city of Hickory, NC will soon be sending inspectors to more than 300 homes and businesses with broken windows, ripped awnings, battered fences or other maintenance code violations
The inspections come as a result of a land-use plan adopted by Hickory in May 2001 which included the new rules on property maintenance.
City officials in Hickory held off on any immediate crack down on violations to give homeowners a chance to make repairs. A citywide survey began last August using a college student intern from Lenoir-Rhyne College who drove street by street through Hickory and noted potential problems. The survey was completed earlier this month.
Armin Wallner, Hickory's building inspections director, said the ordinance mainly covers the exterior of the home. "If your buffer area died . . . we'd say youve got to fix those buffers. Or if your sidewalk was breaking up or if your driveway was breaking up or your fences are looking in disrepair or the outside of your building needs a little paint or youve got broken windows, we would be notifying owners of those conditions and asking if they would voluntarily fix those," said Wallner.
While the ordinance deals mainly with outside appearances, Wallner said that they have had the right since the 1960s to inspect the inside of the home if they had a petition that was signed by five neighbors.
"The only time we go in the inside of a house is when we get a petition filed by five residences," said Wallner. According to Wallner, city building inspectors would then inspect the inside of the house in question.
Asked if a warrant was needed by the inspectors to enter the house, Wallner first said, "No. We've been doing that since the 1960s." Asked what would happen if a homeowner refused to allow inspectors into the house without a warrant, Wallner replied, "We get an administrative search warrant. Then they have to let us in, but that never happens."
Wallner used a broken window as an example of the new property maintenance ordinance. "If we see a broken window, we're going send you a letter asking you to fix it."
Fines for violations are $50 per day until the problem is fixed. Wallner added that "at some point" if the problem were not fixed, a violator would have to go in to see a magistrate.
Asked what would happen if a person didn't have the money to fix something such as an elderly woman on a fixed income. "Well, we have neighborhood associations. So we would probably go to the neighborhood association and see if there's any help." Asked what would happen if there were no help available from the association, Wallner said, "Then we would ask then to get in touch with... We would do what we could, but at some point someone's got to fix the broken window."
After a pause, Wallner said, "You'll always have those situations that are tough, you know, and we realize that too." He then sighed and said, "Ordinances were made to be followed. They're not all good." He then immediately corrected himself and said, "I mean they're not all bad."
In Montreat, the planning and zoning board is conducting three hearings on new regulations the board wants to impose on homeowners. The list of regulations includes:
* Mandating that "every homeowner be required to provide an off-street parking space for every bedroom in the house."
* "...periodic safety inspections of all [privately owned] homes by the Black Mountain Fire Dept., especially those which are rented."
* Requiring all "property owners who rent housing to obtain a rental privilege license from the Town of Montreat, and that provision of such license be worked out..."
* Requiring the use of only natural materials for homes and structures, to include "wood, stone and natural materials."
* Regulating what "proper landscaping" on private property would be; to include what type of bushes, trees and plants are appropriate in a personal flower bed or private garden.
* Using the Land of Sky Regional Council as a resource to help develop "alternatives to paved parking... to minimize storm water run-off."
* Limit the amount of vehicles traveling through the valley "thus decreasing the dangers of air pollution damage to humans, animals and plants."
* Incorporating shuttle buses to run people into Montreat from external parking facilities.
* Regulating noise from automobiles, summer conferences and heating and cooling equipment.
* Obtaining "a minimum of 3,000 acres (to be preserved) in order to provide a large enough un-fragmented preserve to maintain biodiversity and to off diversity of wilderness recreational experiences."
* Conducting a "full inventory of plant and animal species" in Montreat to see if there are any species that would need to be titled as "threatened" or "endangered" within the "Montreat Wilderness" area.
* Placing "platted lots which are adjacent to the Montreat Wilderness boundary, into the Montreat Wilderness, thus adding additional wilderness acreage closer and more accessible."
* Closing any additional hiking trails or hiking shelters within the Montreat Wilderness "in order to protect and preserve the wilderness environment from user impact."
* Requiring any "large groups" holding public events to "provide a plan for traffic control and parking and demonstrate means of implementation to the Town for approval."
Montreat Town Administrator Pam Snypes said she doesn't know exactly what the zoning board is proposing because she is not involved in the meetings. "That's not anything I attend, and I'm not sure what their agenda is for each meeting," said Snypes.
Asked who could answer some questions on the new regulations, Snypes told the Tribune to call the Mayor of Montreat, Letta Jean Taylor. Asked if she was on the zoning board, Snypes said, "No." Asked if it would be better to call someone on the zoning board, Snypes replied, "Well, I think first of all, you need to speak, like I said, with the mayor. According to our personnel policy, when it's a media contact it's usually the mayor or the town administrator or the department head who speaks with the media."
The Tribune tried to reach Mayor Taylor, but she did not return our call by deadline.
Anna Cannon, a Montreat resident, has been to one of the meetings and plans to attend the other two. She told the Tribune after hearing the proposals she got up at the first meeting and said, "I don't understand why you all are not outraged at some of those proposals because they're draconian in their nature and they're unconstitutional."
Cannon said the problem the town is trying to fix is not with the homeowners, but with the conferees at Montreat College, "but they want to punish the homeowners... It's the conference that brings in the majority of people."
Cannon said that the town already tries to manage homeowners down to the most minute detail explaining that when she needed to repair the roof on her 100-year-old home the construction company had to obtain a $30 permit from the town and approve the plans for repair. The approval took two weeks. During which time it rained. The rain caused water damage to the inside of her home.
When asked why she had to get approval from the town to fix her roof, Cannon said she was told that the town has to maintain the "character" of the community. However, Cannon explained, the town approved a variance for an Asheville doctor who moved to Montreat and asked for a 2000 square foot addition to the home he bought. "The additions came within inches of the property line," said Cannon.
It seems no town is immune to the micro-management from town and city.
Hendersonville has ordinances requiring that "every habitable room shall have at least one window or skylight facing directly toward to the outdoors," "all exterior openable windows and doors" will have screens, and even that hot water heaters have "a temperature of not less than 120 degrees."
Asheville is noted for its strict zoning regulations, even Hickory's building inspections director Wallner made mention of it in his conversation with the Tribune. Asked if he was envious of the Asheville regulations, Wallner said, "No, too much work."
Sheesh! Looks like it would be easier, quicker, and cheaper if Mr. Wallner just drove out and fixed it himself!
Amendment IV, according to Montreat, NC:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, does not exist, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon the petition of five nosy busy-bodies, supported by suspicion or any other reason or even no reason at all, and particularly describing the shakedown we'll give you, and the person's whose rights are to be egregiously violated."
Seriously, this is no less than I would expect from a communist country. How sad.
This is ridiculous. An "administrative search warrant" is nothing more than a piece of paper. Search warrants are issued by judges upon a demonstration of probably cause by the requesting agency (police or otherwise). The judge performs a critical, constitutional gatekeeping function.
I'm thinking of moving to New Hampshire, where things are still a bit like they used to be. Maine, strangely enough, is dominated by the liberals that have flooded into the southern part of the state, although government is often ignored in the more rural areas DownEast.
Why do you have to heat hot water?
Think again. Massholes are ruining the place.
Maine, strangely enough, is dominated by the liberals that have flooded into the southern part of the state, although government is often ignored in the more rural areas DownEast.
You just described NH, to a tee.
I am part of a group that is trying to overturn this unconstitutional power grab against private citizens who are only trying to help dogs in need---dogs that would likely be killed if they remained in the government shelters.
The courts are great in theory, but it takes big bucks to bring a constitutional challenge.
"Massholes" -- I like it!
As for the spillover into NH, that's depressing. Maybe I can help if I go north.
You got it.
I don't know why people feel they have this right to make money on an investment. You see it everywhere from Enron all the way down to home ownership.
People invest money and make a profit, that's great! If they invest money and lose it? Well, then it's someone elses fault.
IMO your right to do what you want with regard to the appearance of your home trumps this fake "right" your neighbors have to make a profit on their investment.
Otherwise, you have situations like this where towns are grabbing land under immenient domain to build shopping malls and homeowners associations have to approve the color of your house.
It get's ridiculous and as long as it's not their ox being gored and they stand to profit, don't expect your neighbors to say a word in opposition.
That means no plastic water pipe, etc. There goes the cost of construction.
What about paint? It's not a natural material.........
Which one of the five neighbors wants to try and come in first?
They would snoop around my home over my dead body. I mean that in the most literal sense.
And consider insulated cooper wire, AC/heating ducts, stainless steel sinks, porcelin toilets, asphalt based shingles, wall-to-wall carpeting made with synthetic fibers, drywall, etc.. Man, what group of totalitarian minded control freaks.
I don't know if they are Northeastern socialists, but socialists they are. The problem is that the rural locals are mostly self-reliant, tolerant, and law-abiding. They don't realize the law is being manipulated in a way which seriously impacts the independence and freedom they formerly enjoyed until they are outnumbered, outorganized, and outvoted. I don't see any solution unless hard times foster a new grass roots common sense. Now, the same societal success that allows many to eat themselves into obesity allows people with social/liberal fantasies to imagine and vote away unfettered by any reality checks in their lives.
Here's one example. Those in the military know that women can be helpful, but are not necessarily a help as combat personnel when placed there for affirmative action reasons. However, those in political power have no contact with the reality in the field--they can imagine what is politically correct because they don't have to worry whether the person next to them can sling them over her shoulder and pull them from danger.
10:12 pm PT, Sunday, Jul 21, 2002
Blight-buster or right-wronger?
By Edith Alderette
VALLEJO - Not all rentals are the same in Vallejo. Some are spacious homes with every modern amenity imaginable. Others are small, squalid and, in many cases, in violation of public health or building codes.
The latter and their effect on neighborhood blight has prompted the city to look into writing a new law requiring landlords of rental property to open their apartments and condominiums up to code-enforcement officers for inspection.
The proposed "Vallejo Rental Property Program" has health-care groups and neighborhood associations cheering that poorly maintained, substandard rental housing may finally be hunted down by the city and either fixed or removed from the market.
But landlords say the fees the city would charge constitute a unfair tax they would have to pass on to tenants through increased rents.
Renters in cities where such laws have been implemented say they also resent being forced to let the government go through their cupboards just because they don't own their homes.
The new law, brought before the Vallejo City Council in July 2001, met with sound support of numerous groups, including the Sutter Street Neighborhood Association, Kaiser Permanente Napa-Solano and Solano Coalition for Better Health.
However, before any vote was taken, City Attorney Fred Soley put the ordinance on hold to clear up questions about whether council members who are landlords may vote. Soley says the law could be come back to the council as early as September.
Under the ordinance, rental properties throughout the city would be inspected on a regular basis to make sure conditions are up to city standards and to ensure that tenants are maintaining them safely and properly. Advocates involved in the law's development say they hope to eventually check out every apartment in the city. "Over a couple or four years, maybe more, each piece of rental property would receive an inspection," said Michael Sparks of Fighting Back Partnership, a nonprofit Vallejo organization that helped develop the proposed ordinance.
The city, Sparks said, would begin by inspecting units in buildings notorious for squalor. After giving the landlord notice, code-enforcement officers would then be allowed to enter units to check for evidence of code violations, like non-functioning smoke detectors, mildew and rot, vermin, broken appliances, poor lighting and blocked fire escapes.
Any violations would have to be repaired immediately or the landlord would be required to remove the unit from the market and find other living arrangements for tenants.
When inspectors come to bottom of the list, they would begin again at the top. Sparks said an apartment building that has no code problems would be inspected about every four years, while those buildings with problems would be seen again by officers every two to three years after they were fixed.
Law enforcement officials eagerly greet the prospect of a rental-inspection law, noting that poor housing correlates directly with crime rates in neighborhoods throughout the city. "Basically, what we find is a high level of blight and criminal activity go hand in hand with run-down properties in some of the more dilapidated areas," said Sgt. Larry Jiles of the Vallejo Police Department.
As a member of the central substation's Beat Health Program, he says his officers regularly discover abysmal living conditions in many of Vallejo's depressed neighborhoods, and the new law would give those tenants a way to get their apartments upgraded without having to face repercussions from an angry landlord.
"We go into many rental units that have broken windows in disrepair, where they can't be open or closed, where the floors are deteriorated, where there's a high degree of mold. There are holes in the bathroom floors from toilets or sinks that have torn away from the walls or the floor. Some don't have heaters that operate," he said. "People shouldn't have to live that way."
Objections to the law
Others, however, are not so enthusiastic.
The state's largest landlord association says the fees that landlords would be charged to maintain the program are an unfair and dig into their slim profits, and that an increase in costs to rent a property will only result in higher rents.
Landlords would be required to pay an annual inspection fee of $50 to $75 to keep their units on the market, Sparks said. The cash could be used to hire more officers to inspect properties.
In other cities where such laws have been implemented, like Concord, Daly City, Oakland and San Rafael, the fee is assessed annually, even though the inspections only happen once every several years. Costs range from $17 to $70 a year.
Theresa Karr, regional government relations director for Vallejo-based California Apartment Association, the state's largest trade and lobbying association for landlords and property managers, says her members resent having to pay annually for problems they don't cause.
"It's like Big Brother's in your pocket again," she said. "In Concord, what [property owners] resent most is the fee. From them, it's, 'Get the bad guy, but I have 300 units here. Why do I have to pay a fee for each of my units because the city's trying to get that slumlord over there?' They really think there should be another way."
Others aren't cheering the new law either and worry it would effectively make a different set of constitutional rights for homeowners and renters. Owners would receive the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches, while renters would be forced to let city officials enter their homes.
"This housing inspection thing is a Trojan horse for two reasons: It's a way to abuse poor people and it's a way to make money by taxing everybody," said Vallejo attorney Dan Healy.
With such a law, Healy said, a city can force landlords to open units, even if a renter objects. If a property owner or a tenant refuses to allow officers entry, an inspection warrant -- similar to a search warrant -- would be signed by a judge to allow the code-enforcement officers entry.
Unlike search warrants, however, inspection warrants are much easier to get. While obtaining a search warrant requires the city to go through a long process of developing proof that something illegal is going on inside the unit and presenting a compelling argument to a judge, all officers need for an inspection warrant is to explain they have not been allowed entry and the rental-inspection ordinance mandates that they have the right to enter.
"It's a nice way to get them in to conduct searches without probable cause," Healy said.< snip >
Evidently enforcing existing laws doesn't occur to these people--not when the power to march into private homes is so tempting. After all they are from the government and are here to help, right? ARRGGGH
You could call the electrical utility to have your meter re-installed, but they wont do it without a sign off from the electrical inspector. So you either cooperate willingly or unwillingly, but cooperate is what you will do
I understand the Fire Chief had similar powers
I dont know what he could shut down if you refuse to cooperate though.
Montreat is a high priced area infected with the new age liberalisim that has invaded the Asheville, Black Mt. area. As far as limiting car travel it will be interesting to see how they intend to shut down Interstate 40, which runs the complete length of the the valley.
Maine will soon fall to the "Hyper-Regulators!"
Those of us who understand & Revere the Constitution have LONG been outmanuoevered by the Lawyers who are "Hell-Bent" on Finding Ways Around our Constitution!
WE MUST HAVE a "Cadre'" of Lawyers who Understand & Revere the "Law of the Land!!" AMERICA LIVES ONLY BY it's Constitution!!
ANY attempt to Circumvent America's Constitution is SEDITION--Possibly Treason!!
After 9/11, Americans are Disinclined to give ANY "Foreign National" the "Benefit of the Doubt!"
NUCLEAR RETALIATION is NO LONGER a "Forbidden Option."
The SH+T-for-Brains who attacked us have placed their Families & Their Nations at RISK!
We DO NOT forgive the slaughter of Our Innocents!
It is EXTREMELY UNWISE to kill Innocent Americans!!
We are Patient--We NEVER Forget or Forgive!
I Wouldn't be too eager to "Kiss the Moonstone in Mecca" in the next couple of years!!
You have PISSED-OFF a People who would have let you live--un-bothered--for Mlllenia!!
You have attacked a Peaceful People who tried to Live Peacefully with you!!
You have Violated ALL "Rules of Conduct" established for Warfare By ALL Civilized Nations!!
When we Destroy You (& Your Decadent "Civilization"), Future Generations will wonder, "What Took Us So Long??"
& THAT will be our SHAME!!
I remember Montreat when it was a private Presbyterian retreat with a gatekeeper. You were given a pass to drive around inside. Incorporating was not a good idea.
I can't imagine where they are going to build a parking spot for every bedroom. There isn't 10 yds of level ground in all of Montreat. Most of the roads are really lanes not wide enough for 2 cars to pass.
I guess all the residents will park at Ingles on the S. side of Black Mtn. and be shuttled to Montreat :)
A petition by 5 neighbors cancels the Fourth Amendment?
You mean I and 4 neighbors can terrorize anyone we want with impunity?
Now, that could be fun.
You got to be kidding.
They get the gorillas with the guns to do it for them.
You know, the "just following orders" types?
Publius: You got to be kidding. They get the gorillas with the guns to do it for them.
Which one of the gorillas with guns wants to be first?