• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Code breaker

They're having a little county code contretemps in St. Joseph. The code had been on the fast track, but officials slowed things down over concerns that it had become too broad in scope. Concern has been raised especially about language "that would allow building department employees to enter people's homes to look for violations." Perhaps some people didn't see the controversy coming:

The language was lifted almost word for word from the city ordinance, he said.

[. . .]

There's a lot of concern with what was written about entry of property and entry of homes," Herbster said. He said that although such language might be fine in the city, "people expect more freedom in the county."

Oh, I don't know. I've lived in the city and in rural areas, and people in both seem to expect about the same level of freedom -- especially freedom from intrusion by zealous inspectors carrying out the orders of officious bureaucrats. And I'm guessing that that pesky Fourth Amendment -- you know prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure -- applies equally everywhere.

Here, from an opinion by the Florida attorney general, is a good explanation of the Fourth's application to municipal code enforcement inspections. I don't know what's in the South Bend proposal, but the searches of homes can certainly be handled constitutionally. Here's the part of the Fort Wayne Code dealing with housing and building standards. All the way down at 152.14, C-1-a, the "enforcement authority" is authorized to "enter, examine and survey at all reasonable times all such premises or structures," but in the absence of permission from the owner or occupant, an 'inspection warrant" may be applied for to a "court of record in Allen County."