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Voices / A Community Forum | Gripe

Tenants Lose Right to Privacy

April 03, 1999|STEPHANIE LACY | Stephanie Lacy is a Los Angeles renter

The recently enacted Los Angeles Systematic Code Enforcement program does more to systematically erode the protections of the Bill of Rights than it does to protect the rights of millions of renters. This plan proposes to "inspect" (for code violations) the inside of every rental apartment within the city of Los Angeles, irrespective of the tenant's desire, or lack thereof, for such inspection. Renters are not asked whether they want an inspection, but are instead ordered to admit the inspector. Tenants who are satisfied with their apartments and who wish to forego the inspection in favor of maintaining their privacy are threatened with prosecution.

This program is as unnecessary as it is invasive.

It ignores the many protections that are already available to renters. If the property owner refuses to make necessary and timely repairs, the tenant can make repairs and deduct the cost of repair from the rent or call the Housing Department and demand an inspection. There are also tenant and consumer rights groups available that offer help at no cost to the tenant.

Instead, the government chooses to assume the role of parent. In this role, the inspectors easily overreach their authority, having in one case told a renter to get rid of his own carpet because it had a hole in it, or even to change the type of security locks that the renters had chosen to install.

Having the government assume this role in one area makes it that much easier for it to assume parental controls in other areas of life. Soon we may expect Orwellian diet inspectors, smoking inspectors, exercise police, television cops, fashion police and sex monitors.

Why would the law single out one group of people for enforcement--apartment tenants--rather than owners or renters of single-family dwellings? This must assume that the more affluent residents of single-family homes are more capable of handling their living arrangements than are apartment dwellers.

Wouldn't the detailed inspection of virtually every inch of interior surfaces of living quarters be better suited to an unoccupied unit, as severe disruption of the resident's home would occur otherwise? A proper inspection of all surfaces would require moving all furniture, bookcases and appliances, as well as looking in all closets, cabinets and, of course, under the bed. If the inspector merely "looks around" rather than inspecting the walls and floors, then he is not doing the inspection as written and is merely being nosey.

Tenants who have asserted their 4th Amendment rights against these unreasonable searches have been threatened with prosecution, including fines and jail. This is exactly the type of abuse that the framers of the Constitution hoped to avoid when they wrote the 4th Amendment. Tenants, as well as property owners, must assert their rights if they hope to retain them.

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