Ohio Cities’ Pre-Sale Home Inspections Unconstitutional

Legal Center moves to protect Ohioans’ property rights from unlawful searches and fees statewide

uncle-sam-point-of-saleColumbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved in federal court to immediately enjoin Ohio cities, and the Cities of Bedford and Oakwood in particular, from enforcing “point of sale” and “presale” programs that require citizens to endure and pass arbitrary and warrantless government inspections before they can sell their homes to even the most informed and willing buyers.

Such municipal ordinances, in addition to restricting Ohioans’ property rights, subject homeowners to open-ended warrantless searches of every interior and exterior space of a home, violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

The legal action against Bedford is filed on behalf of area landlord Ken Pund, who is forbidden from selling to his daughter a home that he owns and she already resides in, and John Diezic, who was prohibited from selling his Bedford home due to minor cracks in the asphalt of his driveway. In Oakwood, Plaintiff Jason Thompson was forced to pay for and undergo an inspection simply after making an alteration to the title of his property.

In each case, the City threatened to criminally prosecute and even imprison these homeowners if they sold their homes without first submitting to and passing city inspections.

Both the United States and Ohio Supreme Court have invalidated warrantless inspections of houses, absent consent or an emergency. Nevertheless, Ohio cities have vigorously sought to collect inspection fees and impose fines, and the point of sale inspection requirements are the lynchpin to this revenue stream – – homeowners, irrespective of whether they want or need the inspection, pay a $100 fee to fund the inspections, and then additional fees for “follow-up” inspections.

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

  • Government inspection of homes, even when for sale, requires a warrant, and these expansive warrantless searches, as “unreasonable searches” of “houses,” violate Ohioans’ Fourth Amendment rights.
  • The Warrant Requirement is a significant protection for property owners, because a warrant can only be issued in light of serious and credible complaints about the property.
  • Fees that are charged to fund these unconstitutional inspections are also unconstitutional; cities cannot require their payment, and must return past payments.
  • In a prior 1851 Center victory, Baker v. Portsmouth, federal courts declared warrantless inspections of rental homes unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment’s protections should extend to inspections triggered by the marketing or sale of a home, just as they apply to inspections triggered by renting a home.

“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 inspections,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

Watch Director Maurice Thompson explain the challenge to point of sale requirements

Watch Director Maurice Thompson explain the challenge to point of sale requirements

“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 basic arrangements such as the sale of one’s home to a willing buyer.”

In Bedford, the City maintains the power to block sales on account of “architectural style and detail,” “color,” and lack of “orderly appearance.” In Oakwood, the City concedes “the inspection will seldom, if ever, reveal latent defects or violations of the Property Maintenance Code which are not readily apparent. Neither should owners nor prospective owners or occupants rely entirely upon our inspection regarding the house or accessory structures or fixtures.”

Read the Property Owners’ Complaint HERE

Read the Property Owners’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE

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This lawsuit is brought in partnership with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association (“OREIA”), the Finney Law Firm in Cincinnati, and the law firm of Berns, Ockner & Greenberger in Cleveland.