Tenants and Landlords Join Forces to Battle City’s Rental Inspection Law

by Chris on December 17, 2018

Seattle is facing yet another challenge to its controversial rental regulations. This time, it’s tenants who are complaining.

They argue that the city’s random property inspection rules violate their privacy. Their landlords agree.

The lawsuit, which is poised to become a class-action, was spearheaded by the Institute for Justice, a national firm that protects civil and property rights. It was filed on behalf of tenants who were ordered to undergo what they allege are intrusive rental inspections — 12 pages worth — that include looking at bathrooms, bedrooms, and the contents of their refrigerators.

Under the Seattle ordinance, tenants are not allowed to say no, even if the city does not have a warrant or probable cause to suspect a building code violation.

If a tenant balks at the inspection, it is the landlord who suffers, with fines of $150 per day for the first 10 days, and $500 per day after that. However, in this case, rather than coercing tenants to submit to the inspections, the affected landlords are participating in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the ordinance.

While courts have held that cities have the right to “administrative warrants” that do not violate the U.S. Constitution, the Seattle landlords argue that they are being penalized for not violating tenants’ privacy rights, particularly the specific rights provided under the Washington state constitution.

The Seattle inspection ordinance requires that all rental properties be inspected at least once every 10 years. To accomplish this goal, the city picks properties at random. Therefore, it is possible that the same tenants could be subject to multiple inspections.

In a related story, the city of Council Bluffs, Iowa has been ordered to refund over $230,000 in fees that it collected from landlords under its rental inspection program. The per-unit fees exceeded the actual costs of the inspection program and landlords filed a lawsuit arguing that they were entitled to reimbursement of the unused funds. The judge agreed.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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