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The requirement of reasonableness that the U.S. Const. amend. IV imposes on all searches, whether or not pursuant to warrant, entails the striking of a balance between the benefits of an administrative search in implementing valid governmental programs and its costs to the property and privacy interests of the persons whose homes are searched.
Defendant was a college town that became concerned about the deterioration of its rental housing stock. Defendant promulgated two ordinances that amended the housing code. To determine classification for purposes of the code, the building inspector could apply for a warrant to search of code violations such as multiple occupancy. The plaintiffs argued in the district court that searches by the building inspector violated the Fourth Amendment because they were not supported by probable cause to believe that the specific landlords whose premises were being searched were violating any municipal or other law. The district court enjoined the enforcement of the city ordinance on the basis of Fourth Amendment violation. The district court’s decision was challenged.
Did the ordinance in question, which authorized periodic searches of rental housing to determine compliance with the city’s housing code, violate the Fourth Amendment, thereby warranting the issuance of injunction to enjoin the enforcement of the same?
The court affirmed the district court’s grant of injunction because inspections that involved intrusive searches for evidence of multiple housing violated the Fourth Amendment. All that the warrants at issue specified with regard to the object or scope of the search was that the building inspector was to search for violations of certain sections of the housing code. The district judge was right to hold that the warrants for inspections by the building inspector did not authorize the intrusive searches conducted pursuant to them. Defendant could not comply with U.S. Const. amend. IV by amending sections to incorporate another chapter by explicit reference rather than by making the warrants more specific. An inspection that did not involve rummaging through closets and drawers would be a reasonable method of enforcing the housing code.