Saturday, April 30, 2011

Local Tyranny

If a person is unlucky enough to rent an apartment in the cities of Lancaster, California or Palmdale, California, that person no longer has any fourth amendment protections against searches. It is written in to the law of both cities. The setup is convoluted, but the end result is that no renter has rights.

It starts with code enforcement, as does many of the evils of local government. In order to ensure that apartment complex managers and owners are not mistreating the tenants, code enforcement officials are authorized to enter any rental unit without the permission of or a warrant against the people dwelling there.

So in order to ensure that, for example a fire detector has the batteries installed, agents of the government are allowed in with only the requirement that the property owner, not the renter, be notified. And this only applies to rental properties; homeowners are not subject to these inspections.

The problem is that anything that the renter might be doing is reportable to the police, and the word of the safety code inspector is all the police need to get a warrant. That means that apartment owners are subject to criminal searches under building and safety codes.

Given the vast number of laws that people are subjected to, and nobody knows all the laws that a person must obey, this means that the one guarantee people have to protect them from malicious prosecution – the fourth amendment prohibition against warrantless searches – is null and void for anyone who rents an apartment in Lancaster or Palmdale.

The theory behind the reportability is that since the government agent already has permission to enter the home, anything found is legally reportable. But the search is technically on the property of the lessor, not the dwelling of the lessee. It is a difference without a difference as far as the city governments are concerned.

One could make an argument that this is a coincidental byproduct, an unintended consequence. That would be understandable, except for the wording of the ordinances. Lancaster has the more severe wording.

5.40.020 Purpose

The existence of substandard and unsanitary residential rental properties and residential rental units, the physical conditions and characteristics of which violate applicable state housing, county and local codes and render them unfit or unsafe for human occupancy and habitation, threatens the physical, social, and economic stability of sound residential buildings and areas, and their supporting neighborhood facilities and institutions; necessitates disproportionate expenditures of public funds for remedial action; impairs the efficient and economical exercise of governmental power and functions; and destroys the amenity of residential areas and neighborhoods and the community as a whole. It has been statistically demonstrated that areas with rental housing facilities are responsible for a disproportionate share of police calls for service.

The disproportionate demand upon police services necessitates a disproportionate expenditure of public funds for such properties and impairs the property value of these properties and the surrounding neighborhoods as well as community as a whole.

It is the purpose of this chapter to implement a crime free rental housing program ("LANCAP") to provide a stable, more satisfied tenant base; increase demand for rental units with a reputation for active management; lower maintenance and repair costs; increase property values, and improve the personal safety for tenants, landlords, and managers.

It is also the purpose of this chapter to identify the existence of substandard and unsanitary residential rental properties and rental units and to cause the owner thereof to cure such defects.

For these reasons, it is in the public interest for the protection of the health and safety of the people of Lancaster to protect and promote the existence of sound and wholesome residential rental properties and residential rental units by the adoption of regulations for participants in LANCAP training and the periodic inspection of such structures.

The second paragraph is a key point. Given that the description of how substandard construction drains resources is already in the first paragraph, the second paragraph as a stand-alone describes apartment dwellers alone as being more prone to uncivil behavior.

On the national level, the TSA already has completely dispensed with the fourth amendment, but at least they do so on the refuted claim that they are trying to keep people safe from terrorists. In the case of Lancaster and Palmdale they lack even that much of a justification for eliminating the rights that should belong to every American.

No comments: