The property managers of a housing complex in Colorado are facing a lawsuit after inviting the local police — including a K-9 unit — to search for drugs in tenant homes during routine maintenance inspections.
The ACLU of Colorado announced that the local police department involved in the searches has agreed to pay $210,000 to settle the claim that it violated tenants’ rights when officers inspected homes with no warrant or consent, and without informing tenants that they had the right to refuse entry.
While the police settled their portion of the case, the claims against the property managers still are pending. In a pre-litigation notice, the ACLU has indicated that it will sue the property management group and possibly individual property managers for emotional distress and mental anguish, including violations of the tenants’ privacy, safety, and security in their own homes, and loss of trust in law enforcement. Personal injury claims may include invasion of privacy, trespass, and false arrest or imprisonment. Lawyers say that the damages sought still are to be determined, but they intend to request both compensatory and punitive damages. The ACLU estimates that these damages likely will exceed $100,000 per tenant.
The property management group claims tenants were warned of the possibility that police and K-9 units may search the property. It is not clear that the tenants whose homes were searched had received notice of the landlord’s entry for the routine inspections, or realized that the police might accompany the property management staff inside individual units during routine maintenance inspections. Previous inspections were conducted solely by management staff. Tenants claim they did not understand that they had the right to turn away the police and drug-sniffing dogs. The ACLU has indicated that at least one tenant “loudly objected” to the search, but officers ignored his complaint.
It appears that the decision to involve the police came after “rumors” of drug activity at the property. The police may have conducted the searches in conjunction with training exercises for the K-9 unit.
The police have taken steps to restore community trust, and the ACLU credits the police department’s “goodwill and commitment to accountability and improvement” for the speedy resolution of that portion of the claim. It is not known at this time if that cooperation will impact the ongoing litigation against the property managers.
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