A landlord fights back against the city that demands to be able to inspect a rental property.
09-28-19 By Will Jones at ABC, Channel 7
ZION, Ill. (WLS) — A north suburban landlord is taking the city of Zion to court for an ordinance that allows the city to fine owners if they don’t allow a search of tenants’ homes, even without a search warrant.
Landlord Josefina Lozano said she received a threatening letter telling her to comply with the order or face fines.
“In August, I got a threatening letter for the units who have not been inspected, saying if you don’t arrange an inspection we will refer you to our attorneys for legal proceedings against you,” Lozano said.
Zion’s rental inspection ordinance gives it license to fine landlords up to $750 a day, or even revoke landlords’ right to rent property altogether, unless landlords force tenants to allow the city’s searches, according to a statement from the Institute for Justice.
Judge Mary M. Rowland asked the city to enter into a voluntary agreement in which it agreed not to punish Josefina or her tenants for refusing Zion’s demands, the statement said.
Dorice Pierce, one of Lozano’s tenants, said she first received notice of the inspections from Lozano a few years ago. Pierce said she will not allow city inspectors to enter her townhome without a warrant.
“We have always sent letters to the city denying them access and it hasn’t been a problem until this year,” Pierce said. “If you want to come in here go get a search warrant because I am not just going to let you in because you say you want to come in.”
Lozano, who is also a lawyer, said some of her tenants are OK with city inspectors coming into their homes.
“My issue is with the tenants who don’t want the city, I think it is their constitutional right to not allow the city in without a search warrant,” Lozano said. “I am certainly not going to be strong armed by the city of Zion to doing their dirty work by forcing my tenants to let the city in.”
Lozano and Pierce have filed a lawsuit against the city of Zion. Institute for Justice Attorney Rob Peccola is representing them.
“When tenants don’t feel comfortable with a stranger entering in their home, Zion has taken the position that they don’t need a search warrant,” Peccola said.
Pierce said she has nothing to hide inside her unit, but she isn’t backing down from letting inspectors come into her home without a warrant.
“I am not worried about anything,” Pierce said. “I just have a constitutional right for you to have a valid reason for you to enter my property.”
ABC7 Chicago reached out to a lawyer representing the city of Zion. He declined to comment on pending litigation.
UPDATE: Landlord and Tenants Temporarily Halt Illinois City’s Unconstitutional Home Inspections
Andrew Wimer, Assistant Director of Communications 09-27-19
CHICAGO—This morning, after a hearing in U.S. District Court in Chicago, the city of Zion, Ill. agreed to cease all inspections, fines and notices against landlord Josefina Lozano or any of her tenants. Facing ruinous fines for refusing warrantless inspections, Josefina and three of her tenants—Della Sims, Dorice Pierce and Robert Pierce—teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a federal lawsuit fighting Zion’s unconstitutional ordinance.
Zion’s rental inspection ordinance gives it license to fine landlords up to $750 a day, or even revoke landlords’ right to rent property altogether, unless landlords force tenants to allow the city’s unconstitutional searches. Judge Mary M. Rowland asked the city to enter into a voluntary agreement in which it agreed not to punish Josefina or her tenants for refusing Zion’s unconstitutional demands. The city had previously sent Josefina a threatening letter giving her until September 29, 2019 to comply—or face fines that could reach five or even six figures.
“We are overjoyed that, for the time being, Josefina and her tenants will not be punished for standing up for their constitutional rights,” said IJ Attorney Rob Peccola. “Courts again and again have affirmed that renters do not have to open up their homes to government inspectors without a warrant. Today’s order is temporary but we expect it will be extended as we challenge the city’s unconstitutional ordinance.”
“I’m grateful that, for now, Zion will not be able to punish me for standing up for my tenants’ rights,” said Josefina Lozano. “The people who rent from me deserve the same protection of their constitutional rights as homeowners.”