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2013 top stories: #10 - Supreme Court rules for city

A court battle that went on for years and involved two visits to the state’s highest court came to a resolution in May when the Minnesota Supreme Court said Red Wing’s rental housing inspection ordinance is not unconstitutional.

The ordinance that was challenged said, in part, rental housing inspectors could apply for administrative warrants from a judge to enter properties if landlords or tenants refuse initial inspections.

The Institute for Justice, a law firm that represented nine landlords and two tenants, argued that provision violates the right to privacy and to be “free from unreasonable searches.”

Attorney John Baker, representing the city, said inspections are needed for public safety and health reasons, among others.

If the court overturned the city’s ordinance, it would make Minnesota “the most difficult place in the country for a community to conduct a rental housing inspection program,” he argued in February.

Institute for Justice attorney Dana Berliner said the warrant application alone was an injury because landlords or tenants then have to go to court to fight the warrant.

The city applied for such warrants in the past, but was not successful in getting them approved.

In a concurring opinion this spring, Justice Paul Anderson said in a future case where an administrative warrant has actually been issued, the courts should reconsider.

“Justice Paul Anderson’s concurrence backs our firm conviction that warrants issued without probable cause are unconstitutional in Minnesota,” Berliner said.

The city made a number of changes to its rental housing inspection code after its adoption in 2005, but it remained tied up in litigation for years.

The case was heard before the Supreme Court in May 2011, but at that time more narrowly focused on determining at what point the constitutionality of the ordinance could be questioned.

In December of that year the court ruled the case could move forward.

In June 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with the city, and the Institute for Justice filed a petition in July for Supreme Court review.

The city of Red Wing’s rental housing inspection code reached the state’s highest court for the second time in February 2013. This time the court addressed the constitutionality issue.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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