Archive for Friday, October 6, 2006

City wins ruling in rental lawsuit

Judge says inspection doesn’t violate constitutional rights

October 6, 2006


A Lawrence ordinance allowing the city to inspect rental homes will be allowed to continue, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn H. Vratil handed the city a significant legal victory by dismissing all claims made by a group of tenants and landlords who said the inspection process violated their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The judge also dismissed complaints that the registration program the city requires for some rental homes violated landlords' rights to due process.

Lawrence attorney Gerald Cooley, who represented the city in the case, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"This is an issue that we did a lot of research on and gave a lot of thought to before any of the ordinances were ever adopted," Cooley said. "We're pleased that we have properly read the case law from across the country, and created an ordinance that complies with it."

Attempts to reach any of the defendants or their attorney were unsuccessful Thursday evening. The defendants - Mary Anton Jones, Aaron Kirby, Monte Turner and Ronald Lawrenz - have the option of appealing the ruling to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The city ordinance only requires inspections of rental properties that are in areas zoned for single-family use.

The city argued the inspections were reasonable because it always asked tenants for permission before inspecting the homes. When permission was not granted, the city would only enter the house if a judge issued an administrative warrant to search the home.

"We don't just wander into people's houses," Cooley said.

The judge in the case sided with the city's arguments that the searches were reasonable because the city gave notice to the occupants of the home, and received an administrative warrant when permission was not granted.

The judge also noted that an administrative warrant does not demand the high level of probable cause that is required for a criminal search warrant to be issued. Instead, an administrative warrant only requires that the "administrative standards for conducting an inspection are satisfied."

Cooley said the lower standard is proper because city employees are not seeking evidence of criminal activity when they enter a home for a rental inspection.

"We're not there to look for criminal activity or to pick up contraband," Cooley said.

The inspections allow the city to ensure that housing codes are being followed. It also allows the inspectors to determine that no more than three unrelated individuals are living in a single-family home, as mandated by city ordinances.

The cap on the number of unrelated people who could live in a single-family rental home had been part of the lawsuit, but a judge dismissed those arguments in 2004.


armyguy 11 years, 1 month ago

The city ordinance only requires inspections of rental properties that are in areas zoned for single-family use.

I would suggest that these are not the major code breakers in the city. The rental properties in that are in zoned multi-family use area would be the major code breakers. The student ghetto, or the some of the multi-family in other parts of town. Just look at the LJW for evidence. Most of the falling decks, condemned wiring, egress violations were all in the multi-family zoned units. The city is barking up the wrong tree here, they should be going after all the slum housing areas, as I would think most single homes are in much better condition.

Did the City sue the homeowner or did the LJW get it wrong about the defendants?

monkeyhawk 11 years, 1 month ago

Since this regulation is obviously ok with the state, it needs to extend to ALL rental property. Apparently if someone rents an apartment or any other unit that falls into the multi-family zoning, I guess there is no limit on the number of occupants? So, 20 people could live in a one bedroom.

The vast number of property owners who rent their properties in single family zoning are being discriminated against in the form of rental license fees and inspection intrusion, while developers and managers of huge income generating complexes are allowed carte blanche.

The city has the precedent to enforce their policy on ALL rentals, so I demand to see this happen.

cowboy 11 years, 1 month ago

The city should stand up and admit that this law is just not a good implementation and misses the mark on all counts. The inspections are a joke to begin with , they do not do a thorough inspection of the home checking only a few items. The misrepresentaton that the house is up to code is completely false.

The city SHOULD be inspecting all rentals . note the fires in the older sections of town. They SHOULD set compliance schedules for these slumlords over a two year period to either bring the properties into compliance or condemn them. Its all too common to see crubling foundations , mold like no other , 75 year old cobbled wiring , seeping nasty plumbing. Many of these properties should be knocked down which would allow some revitalization in the inner core of Lawrence.

irnmadn88 11 years, 1 month ago

If businesses that sell food and beverages are subject to annual health and fire code inspections, why not the same for rental properties? Shouldn't a tennant expect the same concern for the roof over their head as the food on their plate?

The city has recently spent money on inspecting all the sewers, roads, and sidewalks...

What's next? Commission a study on inspections?

white_mountain 11 years, 1 month ago

The government should make sure ALL housing is safe by annual inspections. That is the role of government. Those that do not pass inspection could be taken by eminent domain and then transfered to another homeowner who is able to pass the inspection.

classclown 11 years, 1 month ago

"Attempts to reach any of the defendants or their attorney were unsuccessful Thursday evening. The defendants - Mary Anton Jones, Aaron Kirby, Monte Turner and Ronald Lawrenz - have the option of appealing the ruling to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals."


Wouldn't they be plaintiffs? Or did the city sue them?

cellogrl 11 years, 1 month ago

Armyguy, I would have to disagree with you. I lived in a house on Connecticut for one summer and I am SOOOO glad that we moved. It was a rental house and 3 of us lived there, but this house was so bad that we had a squirrel fall through our kitchen roof INTO our house after a bad rain storm. Not to mention the sewer backing up into the unfinished DIRT basement and there literally being piles of crap down there and the brown recluses that frequented the house. As you can imagine, I spent very little time there. This house should be condemned and yet they still seem to get tenants in it every year. Hmmm.... I think they should ALL be inspected.

BrianR 11 years, 1 month ago

Wow, White_mountain, if THAT is the government you want, perhaps you shold move somewhere else because I would say that a government that did what you're suggesting needs to be overthrown.

optimist 11 years, 1 month ago

A property who rents out his/her property is in business and can be subjected to the same scrutiny that other business must endure. As long as the city is fair in their implementation and the tenant tolerates the intrusion I don't see the problem.

If they haven't already the department responsible for inspections should put together rules and regulations defining the standards that rental owners must meet, how the inspections will be conducted and under what circumstances they will be initiated, what the penalties are for not meeting standards and the standards for making the required improvements. There should also be an appeals process that gives deference to the property owner. This program should not be a way for the city to simply run roughshod over property owners and strip away their property rights.

This is an issue in the public's interest and it is reasonable for local government to undertake these actions.

Godot 11 years, 1 month ago

cellogrl, why did you move in in the first place? Did someone twist your arm?

cowboy 11 years, 1 month ago

Yes the city used a rental inspection code to address a behavior issue , too much partying , noise , and traffic in the residential sections. Keeps those students and poor folk down where they belong. In these fire trap , mold ridden , crumbling houses and dont worry about the slumlords. Many of those slumlords live quite nicely in some of the finest houses in lawrence and wont repair thier properties , they should be brought to task. they aren't in it for charity I assure you.

There are many who are really reputable owners but a quick drive thru the student ghetto and east lawrence will show you there are as many slumlords also and little difference between what the good guy charges and what the slumlord charges so its not a economic decision not to maintain a property , its a I want more money and dont care position.

cellogrl 11 years, 1 month ago

My boyfriend already lived there and the lease wasn't up until August 1st. My lease on my apartment was up on May 31 and our new one didn't start until August 1st. Didn't really have a lot of choice. Needed a place to live. Luckily, that was 5 1/2 years ago and I've grown older and wiser with time. Oh, and I didn't know about the spiders or the sewage backup before I moved it. A little omission by my boyfriend there (and we have since broken up - another thing I was older and wiser about). :)

imastinker 11 years, 1 month ago

What's wrong with home inspections? I got one before I moved into my house. Crumbling foundations, mold, visibly bad wiring. These things are hard to cover up. Do peole not look at these things before renting? Why is it the city's responsibility? If you don't like it - MOVE!!

This whole thing is about keeping college kids near the college and out of neighborhoods.

classclown 11 years, 1 month ago

"This whole thing is about keeping college kids near the college and out of neighborhoods."


How about keeping them on campus and building a big fence around it?

Sigmund 11 years, 1 month ago

Where are all the liberals who are worried about our shrinking CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. This isnt about landlords, but "a group of *tenants and landlords* who said the inspection process violated their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment."

Funny how quickly liberals turn into fascists. In their effort to protect tenants, they take away tenant's constitutional rights. But isnt that always the case?

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Isn't that the "right to privacy" ammendment I keep hearing so much about? Tenants used to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own homes, but not in Liberal Lawrence Kansas.

Welcome tenants to the status of second-class citizens, something landlords have faced for years now!

Kat Christian 11 years, 1 month ago

I live in a rental and I would welcome the inspection and I would accompany the inspector to make certain he was doing a throurogh job and ask questions at the same time. Knowledge is POWER. I do agree that ALL rental units be inspected, because I've seen a lot of dumps in this town. However, we all could work together in making sure this happens by calling the Neighbor Associations or Code enforement and complaining about these homes. I did and don't you know they cited the Landlord to make the improvements before they rented the home again. I didn't want to live next door to a dump. What if it caught fire and it jumped onto my home? Also, PEOPLE don't buy or even RENT these homes until they are up to code. People will rent without thinking they have the right to require the Landlord to fix things before they moved in or call the Code enforcement on them. If enough people did this perhaps things would change. Too many people rely on the City government to do IT ALL for them. Just because they make the laws doesn't mean we don't have a voice. WE ARE THE PEOPLE... get off your duffs and pick up the phone for kripe sakes. Complain, bring it to the attention of those who can do something about it. If that doesn't work then we certainly would need a major change.

Kat Christian 11 years, 1 month ago

As far as the Constitution you MUST remember there are so many amendments upon amendments that actually water down the originals rights.

Kat Christian 11 years, 1 month ago

Yes all rental houses should be inspected BECAUSE you'd be surprised how many "families" do not keep a clean and safe home. From piling up trash, to unresasonable clutter, not cleaning, using unsafe cords the list goes on. Just because you are married w/children doesn't necessaily mean your rental home is safe and up to par. I don't think an inspection should rest on whether a tenant is married or unmarried. You'd be surprised how many people just do not take pride in their home or appearance for that matter (in this town). But I do think its true about the Landlords that they rely on "inexperienced" students not caring or knowing enough about rental laws to require rental homes be up to safety standards. I imagine many Landlords have conned tenants out of money on someone else's neglect. So before you move in be sure the place is up to code. Call the Code enforcement and have them come out yourself then let them deal with the Landlord. It only takes one person to make a difference. Now I feel like riding around the neighborhoods and jotting down addresses and calling the Code Enforcement office myself to complain - Hey let's start a group.

Godot 11 years, 1 month ago

"However, we all could work together in making sure this happens by calling the Neighbor Associations or Code enforement and complaining about these homes."

Has it occurred to you that you could thoroughly inspect the place before you rent it and choose not to rent it if it is not up to snuff?

Godot 11 years, 1 month ago

After all, there is a glut of rental units in Lawrence. Looks to me like you can be choosey. No one is forcing you to live where you think the conditions are unsafe.

Godot 11 years, 1 month ago

Renters, take charge of your lives. Take the time to investigate the place that will be your home BEFORE YOU RENT! If the place sucks, do not rent it, for any price. That is the only strategy that will clean up the rental market in Lawrence.

And, if you find a nice place, keep it that way.

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