Oxford updating rules for rental property inspections

ajc.com
Caption
.

Proposed updates to Oxford’s property maintenance code will affect inspections of rental properties.

A federal judge in 2015 ruled that a city’s inspections of rental properties without a warrant are unconstitutional.

In that case, the judge agreed with property owners who had sued the city of Portsmouth, Ohio, contending that the city’s rental dwelling code violated their constitutional protections to due process and against unreasonable searches by forcing them to allow inspections without probable cause warrants.

City Law Director Steve McHugh told Oxford City Council the court in that case deemed inspections “an unreasonable search and seizure,” creating an issue for cities wanting to do inspections for safety violations in rental properties.

He stressed it is not equivalent to a criminal search warrant but is limited to the administrative purpose for the inspection. For example, if an inspector were to happen to see evidence of a criminal activity it would not be included in the scope of the purpose of the warrant.

“The proposed changes will specifically spell out that an administrative warrant will be sought if an owner refuses to grant the inspector entry to the property for a rental inspection to ensure the property meets the minimum requirements of the Code,” Oxford Planning Director Jung-Han Chen wrote in his staff report. “In addition, it outlines the reasons for requesting and administrative warrant.”

City Manager Doug Elliott said the court case was brought to the attention of city staff by an Oxford property owner.

“One property owner came to us with the Portsmouth case and said, ‘You’re not searching my properties.’ It would not be all his properties, just those currently up for inspection,” Elliott said.

“We needed to find a way to conduct inspections when an owner refuses to allow inspection,” Chen said. “We can have a separate category with a permit issued noting we only did an exterior inspection.”

City Council member Steve Dana said the process is an important one for insuring the safety of rental properties for residents of Oxford, many of whom are Miami University students.

Council member Kevin McKeehan echoed that, saying the administrative warrant would be used to provide for the safety of renters.

The ordinance will be on the Oct. 18 agenda for second reading and action by council.