This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Cardinal Estates, Inc., et al.,
The City of Morris,
a municipal corporation, et al.,
Stevens County District Court
File No. C401216
Brent W. Waddell, Waddell’s Cyrus Law Office, 221 West Main Street, P.O. Box 152, Cyrus, MN 56323 (for appellants)
Charles C. Glasrud, Morris City Attorney, 109 East Sixth Street, P.O. Box 66, Morris, MN 56267 (for respondents)
Teresa J. Nelson, Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, 1821 University Avenue, #N392, St. Paul, MN 55104 (amicus curiae in support of appellants)
Susan L. Naughton, League of Minnesota Cities, 145 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55103-2044 (amicus curiae in support of respondents)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Hudson, Judge, and Poritsky, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant tenants and landlords challenge the district court’s determination that a city ordinance does not violate their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by purporting to force landlords to allow city inspectors access to apartment homes without tenant consent or a valid search warrant. Because on the undisputed facts here the searches at issue were conducted pursuant to a valid administrative search warrant, we affirm.
D E C I S I O N
A municipal ordinance is presumed constitutional. City of St. Paul v. Dalsin, 245 Minn. 325, 329, 71 N.W.2d 855, 858 (1955). The burden of proving otherwise falls “on the party attacking its validity.” Id. On appeal from summary judgment, where the parties agree that there are no material issues of fact, we conduct a de novo determination of whether the district court has correctly interpreted an ordinance. Farmington Township v. High Plains Coop., 460 N.W.2d 56, 58 (Minn. App. 1990). We presume that a lawmaking body did not intend to reach an illegal result, and we also presume that a “lawful purpose was intended, unless the contrary clearly appears.” Ramaley v. City of St. Paul, 226 Minn. 406, 408, 33 N.W.2d 19, 21 (1948).
Appellants claim that the city ordinance in question violates tenants’ rights because it compels landlords to allow city inspectors into tenant-occupied apartments without either tenant consent or a valid search warrant. First, we note that the United States Supreme Court has held that administrative searches to enforce building codes, so long as properly conducted, are reasonable and constitutional. Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 536-37, 87 S. Ct. 1727, 1735 (1967). Camara holds that although code inspections may be a necessary and reasonable means of ensuring building safety, they are searches for Fourth Amendment purposes and must be conducted only with consent or a valid search warrant. Id. at 534, 87 S. Ct. at 1733. The question, then, is not whether these code inspections are permissible at all, but whether they are permissible as provided by Morris City Code § 4.31.
The ordinance provides that city-appointed inspectors “shall have the authority to enter any building, at reasonable times and upon five (5) days written notice to the tenant * * * ” to ensure compliance with city building code standards. If a landlord fails to provide entry to inspectors, that landlord faces suspension and potential revocation of his rental license. Appellants claim that because the ordinance does not refer to tenant consent or authorize inspectors to seek search warrants, it excludes tenants from the inspection process and attempts to compel landlords to violate their tenants’ rights. But, the ordinance is subject to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment even if it does not refer to those requirements on its face. Because Camara makes clear that in order to be constitutional code inspections must be conducted pursuant to either tenant consent or a valid administrative search warrant, we presume that the city council intended that the ordinance would be subject to those requirements. See Ramaley, 226 Minn. at 408, 33 N.W.2d at 21.
Here, appellant tenants specifically requested that their landlord not provide access to city inspectors. Thus, the only lawful way for inspectors to enter their apartments was pursuant to a valid administrative search warrant, which they sought and obtained. Although appellants draw much attention to the fact that the City initially attempted to “coerce” appellant landlord into providing access, ultimately no objected-to searches were conducted without an administrative warrant. Therefore, appellant tenants’ constitutional rights were not violated.
Appellants next argue that any administrative search warrants issued to city inspectors were invalid, because the ordinance does not contain specific language authorizing a warrant remedy if inspectors cannot obtain tenant consent to enter an apartment. We disagree.
In Camara, the Supreme Court emphasized the need for and importance of the “warrant procedure” to protect tenants’ Fourth Amendment rights. Camara, 387 U.S. at 533, 534, 539-40, 87 S. Ct. at 1733, 1734, 1736. But the Camara court did not expressly require that a warrant procedure be written into the language of a city building inspection ordinance. Moreover, this court has previously held that administrative search warrants of this type may issue even absent a specific authorizing statute. Search Warrant of Columbia Heights v. Rozman, 586 N.W.2d 273, 276 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Jan. 21, 1999).
The warrant application Morris inspectors presented to the issuing judge described the property to be inspected and the reason for inspection. The warrant itself detailed the date, time, purpose, and scope of the inspection. Camara defines the probable cause standard for administrative search warrants. Camara, 387 U.S. at 538-39, 87 S. Ct. at 1736. Unlike probable cause for a traditional search warrant, probable cause for a warrant in this context may be based on the “passage of time, the nature of the building * * * , or the condition of the entire area * * * ,” but need not be based on individualized suspicion. Id. This “lower” standard of probable cause applies even where, as here and as in Camara, the ordinance in question authorizes some criminal sanctions. Id. at 527, 87 S. Ct. at 1729-30.
The particularity of the warrants here satisfies the constitutional requirement that warrants specify the place to be searched and the facts supporting the warrant’s issuance, as well as alleviating the concern that tenants would be “subject to the discretion of the official in the field.” Id. at 532, 87 S. Ct. at 1733. The Fourth Amendment, as explained in Camara, requires that housing inspectors obtain administrative search warrants when denied consent to enter. And we are compelled to construe the ordinance at issue in such a way to make it constitutional. See State v. Rawland, 294 Minn. 17, 38, 199 N.W.2d 774, 786 (1972) (stating that where two reasonable constructions exist, we must accept that which eliminates constitutional objections). Thus, the absence of a specific warrant requirement in the ordinance does not require that we strike down the ordinance.
Finally, appellants argue that the ordinance violates their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law because it subjects tenants to periodic inspections of their homes, whereas homeowners are not subject to this intrusion. This, appellants claim, infringes tenants’ fundamental right to privacy in their homes. We disagree.
Although all citizens share the same basic Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, with regard to the administrative searches at issue here, appellants have failed to establish that renters and homeowners are similarly situated. Basic to the status of a renter is that the renter does not own the property, and cannot completely exclude the owner or the owner’s agent from the property. This is codified in Minn. Stat. § 504B.211 (2002), which provides that landlords and their agents may enter into tenant-occupied apartments for various business reasons.
Because appellants cannot successfully argue that the classification between renters and homeowners is “suspect,” appellants contend the ordinance at issue is subject to strict scrutiny because it infringes on tenants’ “fundamental right to privacy.” We disagree.
As discussed above, both renters and owners have a fundamental Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable government entry into their residences. Camara, 387 U.S. at 528, 87 S. Ct. at 1730. But, Camara tells us that code inspections, so long as conducted pursuant to consent or a search warrant, are a reasonable government intrusion designed to protect the public interests. Id. at 537, 87 S. Ct. at 1735. And here, no inspections were conducted without either consent or a search warrant. Thus, if properly conducted, code inspections do not violate tenants’ Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment rights and strict scrutiny analysis is not appropriate.
Finally, while citizens have the right to expect privacy in their homes, this right “must be balanced against the state’s interests.” Humenansky v. Minnesota Bd. of Medical Examiners, 525 N.W.2d 559, 567 (Minn. App. 1994). In Camara, the Supreme Court recognized the long-standing policy that cities and municipalities have the power to impose and enforce minimum building standards upon private property. Camara, 387 U.S. at 535, 87 S. Ct. at 1734. The City of Morris has a legitimate interest in protecting its citizens against unsafe conditions in rental housing. While sophisticated tenants may be aware of remedies available to them if their landlords fail to repair building defects, the City has a legitimate concern that many tenants could be endangered or abused by landlords who neglect or refuse to make necessary repairs. As the court in Camara concluded, routine, periodic inspections are the best reasonable mechanism for finding and addressing building code violations. Id. at 535-36, 87 S. Ct. at 1734.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.