By Robert and Rebecca McCaughtry
If anyone wants to understand the growing frustration with government, they need look no farther than Red Wing, Minn., and everything that city has put us through over the past six years.
In 2005, Red Wing passed a rental home inspection ordinance that gave it the power to enter and inspect any rental homes, even if the tenant and landlord didn't want government inspectors to enter, and even if there was no credible expectation (known as "probable cause") that there were any housing code violations in those homes.
Along with nine other landlords and tenants, we joined with the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter to file suit against the city shortly after the ordinance was enacted. Our case has been winding through the court system ever since. Today, an important part of our case will be heard before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Although we want to challenge the heart of the inspection law, Red Wing has argued -- and the state appeals court agreed -- that before we can challenge such a clearly unconstitutional law, we must wait for the city to violate our rights; we must let their inspectors in against our will so they can tramp through our kitchens, our bathrooms and our bedrooms. Three times now, the city has attempted to secure warrants to do that, and three times we have been forced to fight them in court. Although we have won each time, this never-ending cycle of harassment at the hands of government officials must end. That's what we're seeking from the state's high court.
If the courts leave this law in place, the current Red Wing statute is by no means the end of the road for such inspections. Today it will be rental homes, but that tomorrow it will be all homes across the city. If the government is allowed to violate the rights of renters, who have expressly stated that they do not want government agents looking around their personal items, there will be nothing stopping those same government agents from forcing their way into owner-occupied homes, no matter how well-maintained they are.
Red Wing city officials have demonstrated through their actions their paternalistic belief that tenants and landlords lack the ability to make decisions for themselves about their living arrangements. (Keep in mind, if any tenant does not like his living conditions, he is free to call up and invite inspectors in at any point.) And worse, while Red Wing dresses up its misguided rental inspection policy in the clothes of "good government," in truth it amounts to bullying. Red Wing officials apparently believe that if they spend enough time and money they can wear down the little guys, who will ultimately run out of money or give up in frustration.
No one should have to wait until their rights are violated before they can challenge a law that raises such clear constitutional problems. Our fight before the Minnesota Supreme Court is about nothing less than ensuring that the courthouse doors remain open to ordinary Minnesotans who face government power run amok.
Robert and Becky McCaughtry own rental housing in Red Wing. Their case challenging the city's inspection law will be heard today before the Minnesota Supreme Court.