Ohio Cities’ Rental Licensing and Inspection Requirements Unconstitutional

Legal Center moves to protect property rights of landlords from unlawful searches and licensing regulations in Mt. Healthy, Ohio

forrentColumbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved in federal court to immediately enjoin Ohio municipalities, and the City of Mt. Healthy in particular, from enforcing new “Rental Permit Programs” that require small landlords to undergo warrantless inspections, pay permit fees, and obtain a license simply to continue renting their houses to tenants.

Such municipal ordinances, such as the Mt. Healthy ordinance which became effective in March, in addition to restricting Ohioans’ property rights, subject property owners and tenants to open-ended warrantless searches that violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution. Further, the Rental Permit Program discriminatorily applies only to single family homes, and not to multi-family residences, such as apartments.

The legal action is filed on behalf of four rental property owners and one tenant, all in the City of Mt. Healthy, Ohio, which is located just outside of Cincinnati in Hamilton County. These property owners have long rented their property in Mt. Healthy without license or inspections, and their properties have never been the subject of complaint by tenants, neighbors, or others.

The City has threatened to criminally prosecute and even imprison these landlords if they continue to rent their homes without first submitting to an unconstitutional warrantless search of the entire interior and exterior of these homes.

Both the United States and Ohio Supreme Court have invalidated warrantless inspections of rental property, and repeatedly held that warrantless administrative inspections of business property are generally invalid, absent exigent circumstances.

Nevertheless, Ohio cities have vigorously sought to collect licensing fees from area landlords and find cause to impose fines, and the warrantless searches serve as the lynchpin to each of these goals.

Ordinances such as the Mt. Healthy Rental Permit Program establish an absolute prohibition on renting property within a community, even though the landlord may have long done so and even though his or her property may be in pristine condition, without a government-approved license that cannot be acquired without first paying a $100 annual fee per rental home and submitting to an open-ended warrantless search of the property, inside and out.

The lawsuit seeks to restore Ohio small business owners’ freedom from warrantless searches without probable cause. In doing so, the 1851 Center’s Complaint explains the following:

 

  • Searches of homes, even when business property to the owner, require a warrant, and warrantless searches violate Ohioans’ Fourth Amendment rights.

 

  • Even if a city were to seek a warrant to insect a rental home, in the absence of serious complaints about the property or an emergency, regulatory schemes such as rental permit programs do not allow cities to seek and obtain warrants to search homes.

 

  • Licensing fees that are designated for the purpose of conducting unconstitutional searches are also unconstitutional, and cities cannot require their payment.

 

“Local government agents do not have unlimited authority to force entry into Ohioans’ homes or businesses. To the contrary ‘houses’ are one of the types of property specifically mentioned by the Fourth Amendment; and Ohioans have a moral and constitutional right to exclude others, even government agents, from their property. Entry requires either a warrant or an emergency, and neither is present with respect to these suspicionless rental inspections,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“Government inspections of one’s home frequently results in arbitrary orders to make thousands of dollars worth of untenable improvements to even the most well-maintained properties. The right to own property in Ohio has little value if local governments can continuously chip away at one’s right to actually make use of that property, requiring government permission slips for even the most basic human arrangements.”

Read the Rental Property Owners’ Complaint HERE.

Read the Rental Property Owners’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.