I, like so many other renters, enjoy the perks of apartment living. I’m not on the hook for property taxes. When my garbage disposal or air conditioner messes up, my landlord is responsible for repairs. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal.
But, like other renters, the joys of apartment living are juxtaposed by some crappy drawbacks. The breezeway of my building is only as clean as I and the occupants of 11 other units allow. My wife and I have nicknamed the guy living underneath us “Door Slamming Dave.”
But these inconveniences pale in comparison to some of the drawbacks other renters are forced to endure. In some cases, renters forfeit their Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches and seizures, solely because they rent.
There are many places around the country where renters are forced to contend with the wild hairs snooping landlords periodically get. They don’t need probable cause or warrants, only suspicion, or at the very least, a desire to investigate rented sanctuary. What makes matters worse is that for these landlords, the law is on their side. In these cases, the Fourth Amendment is impotent, unable to protect renters from unconstitutional invasions by the men and women who provide them with walls, a roof, and amenities for a monthly fee.
But how can constitutional protections be rendered impotent, especially in the most flagrant examples of abuse (such as this one)? Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has a lot to do with that.
In 1967, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, heard Camara v. Municipal Court and ruled that “reasonable legislative and administrative standards” qualify in creating probable cause to enter rented dwellings. The majority agreed:
“Such standards may be based upon the passage of time, the nature of the building (e.g., a multi-family apartment house), or the condition of the entire area, but they will not necessarily depend upon specific knowledge of the condition of the particular dwelling.”
In general terms, the Camara ruling establishes that if a rented residence is in a sketchy neighborhood or if the occupants of a rented dwelling live next to careless neighbors, government officials, landlords, or whoever may obtain an “administrative warrant” — a warrant in name only — to search the premises, even without actual probable cause for the unit being searched.
Making matters worse, the Supreme Court rebuked concerns over possible privacy invasion when they handed down their decision in Camara.
Even if you have done nothing to warrant such a search, your door can still be opened and your home can be tossed.
Because of the Camara decision, renters all over the nation can be subjected to this intrusiveness without justification. Probable cause needn’t apply. I’ve never been much of a constitutional originalist, but the Fourth Amendment is pretty clearly defined.
I understand the defense of administrative search warrants. There are health codes that need to be followed and laws that need to be upheld, but following these codes and upholding these laws should not come at the expense of renters’ Fourth Amendment rights, regardless of the Supreme Court’s take on it almost 50 years ago.
Featured image via Pixabay.