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My city is conducting its once-every-5-years housing inspection. Inspections are outside-only, but they encompass quite a lot- roof, walls, yard, electrical, foundation, door locks & hinges- a full page of items in tiny 9 point font. Most of what they are inspecting can probably be done from the curb, but they do mention they will "come to your door prior to the inspection."

I've no objection to them inspecting from the curb, and they can probably accomplish most of their goals from that alone. But I would not be surprised to find them roaming my yard. (This is the kind of city that measures your lawn with a ruler to enforce the landscaping code.) It feels very invasive and kind of pushy.

My question is: does a city have any legal basis for entering a property for housing code inspections? Does the 4th Amendment apply here? I imagine that it would be considered trespassing if I told them to leave, and they refused. I also understand that this will likely cause me more headaches than if I simply let them do their thing. But it feels wrong.

  • Jurisdiction (city, state)? – BlueDogRanch Apr 9 '16 at 14:52
  • 4th amendment applies similarly across all states. – user3851 Apr 9 '16 at 14:54
  • There is an existing administrative warrant question, this may be a dupe. – jqning Apr 9 '16 at 22:16
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    @Dawn, you're right about the 4th. I was thinking of building codes and neighborhood covenants, which are very local. – BlueDogRanch Apr 10 '16 at 3:08
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The 4th Amendment applies to administrative inspections. Per Camara v. Municipal Court 387 U.S. 523 (1967), there are some exceptions for tightly regulated industries, but you don't seem to be describing such a situation.

If you object to a warrantless inspection, the inspectors would need to get a warrant to do those parts of the inspection that require getting on the curtilage of your property. Curtilage is the part of your property that is so intimately connected with the home that it treated the same for 4th Amendment purposes. Per United States v. Dunn 480 U.S. 294 (1987), a fence doesn't mean everything inside the fence is curtilage (but for a small, city dwelling, the fence is probably going to be considered the curtilage boundary). Not having a fence doesn't mean nothing is curtilage.

As you say, even if you object to the warrantless inspection, they can probably do a lot of the inspection from outside your curtilage and avoid infringing your 4th Amendment rights.

The inspectors may choose to return with an inspection warrant. An example statute describing an inspection warrant is California Code 1822.50:

An inspection warrant is an order, in writing, in the name of the people, signed by a judge of a court of record, directed to a state or local official, commanding him to conduct any inspection required or authorized by state or local law or regulation relating to building, fire, safety, plumbing, electrical, health, labor, or zoning.

  • It's technically a city, but it's quite suburban. Our lot is nearly a quarter acre. A portion of the property is ringed by an actual fence, but the larger perimeter is porously "fenced" with bushes. Thanks for explaining curtilage. – Caffeine Coma Apr 9 '16 at 15:50
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If no one is there they need a warrant to enter.

However, a third party with control of the property such as a tenant, relative, or even a realtor or contractor can invite them to enter without your knowledge.

Consult with your attorney and have LL notification by any tenants mandatory.

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